Bridge club forced to move after Northampton Senior Center expands hours

  • Marie Westburg, who started as director of senior services for Northampton on April 30, talks with visitors during a reception at the Senior Center, May 21.

Staff Writer
Published: 10/16/2018 12:02:19 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The Senior Center is piloting a dramatic increase in its hours and offerings.

“People are really hungry to do some things in the evening with their peers,” said Marie Westburg, director of Northampton Senior Services.

However, these changes have left the Northampton Bridge Club unable to rent the space, and left a raw feeling on the club’s end.

“We really were left with no option,” said Sheila Ryan, president of the board of the Northampton Bridge Club.

The club began renting from the Senior Center in April, prior to Westburg’s hire. Previously, the club, whose members are mostly seniors, played its games at Hadley Farms Meeting House. Ryan said that arrangement ended after they were told several months in advance that their lease would not be renewed, speculating that Hadley Farms wanted the space cleared for catered events.

“We had no problems with them,” she said.

When the previous senior services director, Linda Desmond, announced that she would be stepping down, the club asked to pay its fees in advance, a proposal that was accepted. The agreement was for the club to rent the space from 6 to 11 p.m. every Tuesday from April 6 to Dec. 25.

Westburg said the programming and hours expansion that would eventually displace the bridge club came about because there was an interest in having evening hours at the center, and that the reason behind this was to accommodate seniors who work.

“Seniors are working later and later in life,” said Westburg.

As such, a yearlong hours and programming expansion pilot was launched at the center on Oct. 2. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the senior center is now open until 7 p.m., with classes being offered during this time period as well. The fitness center alone is now also open from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Some of the classes being offered at the senior center in the evening are a ukulele class with 10 people and an introduction to meditation group with 17 people. A Dance and Sculpt fitness class, which is being held in conjunction with the HRYMCA, is set to be launched soon, and a “Sweet Harvest” cooking class, which will teach seniors how to cook with local apple varieties, will be held on Oct. 18.

Westburg says there are also plans for a monthly Rainbow Dinner Club in the evening, which will be a dinner and social time for LGBTQ seniors.

Ryan shared that she was informed by Westburg in August that the club’s rental agreement would change as of Oct. 1. These policies included the doubling of fees, the center not renting beyond 10 p.m., the club no longer being able to use the room it had been renting, and the center no longer being able to store the club’s tables.

Ryan said these changes made it impossible for the club to continue at the senior center. Additionally, she said that Westburg refused to meet with club representatives in person to discuss the changes, as did the mayor’s office, who told them to work with the director.

Ryan also said that while the center did refund the club’s remaining rent money, it did not agree to reimburse the club for its move-out costs.

“It left a really bad taste in all our members’ mouths with how this woman handled this,” said Ryan.

She said that “95 percent” of the bridge club’s membership is over 60 and that many are over 70.

“They just kicked out 40 to 50 seniors,” she said.

Both Westburg and Ryan said the club was offered other time slots, but that those did not work out for them.

“They need a big chunk of time,” said Westburg.

Westburg also said that there are other bridge games still ongoing at the senior center.

“We do have three other bridge games going on during the week,” she said.

On the doubling of fees, which went from $15 an hour to $30 an hour, Westburg said that this was a necessity.

“Our building use fees were actually not even covering our costs,” she said.”We needed to add those costs in.”

As for not meeting with the club to discuss the changes in person, Westburg said that the senior center rents to many other groups, and that she can’t sit down with every group that rents from the center.

The club is a competitive club, affiliated with the American Contract Bridge League, with members playing to get points toward national and even international ranking. This is the main reason why the club requires a five-hour window.

The club is now playing at the Christ United Methodist Church on Route 66 in Northampton. Its regular game starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and typically is finished up by 11.

“We’re happy to be there,” Ryan said.

However, she said the club has lost some of its regular players because it’s too far and the road there is too dark at night. Additionally, she noted that the remaining games at the senior center are not affiliated with the ACBL.

Ryan also questioned if the programs the club is being kicked out to make room for would serve the same number of seniors as the club does.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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