Whispering Pines Senior Center may shut down due to well problems, and alternative funding for a nearby center has sparked community concerns. Residents suggest a multi-generational approach, but challenges remain regarding reported usage and facility options.

With a failing well, the Whispering Pines Senior Center outside of Chilili is very likely going to be closing soon.

But Bernalillo County Commissioner Eric Olivas said money that might have been earmarked to address the situation would be better spent – perhaps even used at the Chilili Land Grant Multi-Purpose Center and Gym.

Area residents, however, are not pleased that Whispering Pines may close and say that communication has been inconsistent.

“They’ve known about it since July,” said Whispering Pines volunteer Lorraine Ortiz. “But the news has been spread by word of mouth. We only found out when one of the drivers asked us if we knew they were going to close it down.”

Additionally, informational meetings about the situation were held not at Whispering Pines but at the community centers in Tijeras and near East Mountain High School, said local senior Steve Apodaca.

“They didn’t let the community know until they day of the meeting,” he said. “How do they expect to reach people and to let them voice their opinion if they don’t give it a chance.”

The issue is not a pleasant one, Olivas said.

“It is a really a tough situation,” he said. “The challenge is that that from a facility standpoint, the bottom line is the well is in a very precarious place. It doesn’t have enough pressure to run a fire suppression system. Our geologist believes that any day may be its last day. It is very much on its last leg. They are not anticipating we will be able to redrill the well.”

A petition quickly gathered nearly 200 signatures asking the county to seek a solution to keep it open.

Apodaca, who regularly eats lunch at the center with his wife, said losing Whispering Pines would be a significant blow to the community.

“It is very important,” he said. “For three or four seniors, I know it’s the only really good meal they get every day. It’s a hot meal and it serves as a meeting place for the elderly. They run into other people who are our neighbors. They get to visit with them, make sure everything is going okay, talk about the weather, talk about politics.”

Residents have proposed using a water-hauling and storage system with a recirculating pump to keep the water fresh, but Olivas said it was not cost-effective.

“I think they’re pulling our chain,” Apodaca said.

But, Olivas said, the meal site shows fairly low use and it would be difficult to justify the expense. He said he plans to reach out to land grant officials to see if a cooperative agreement could be worked out for its multi-purpose center, which seems a like a viable alternative given its proximity to the old center, it is modern and features many amenities not available at Whispering Pines.

“They’ve got a gym, a cafeteria, modern bathrooms,” Olivas said. “It’s a really nice facility. I’m exploring if there is a way where we can help them with their facilities, provide some of the amenities that Whispering Pines has, maybe transfer them over and become a partner. Let’s make more happen with fewer facilities because the need is so high.”

A better solution, local residents said, is to increase usage Whispering Pines by turning it into a multi-generational center and encourage youth to spend their afternoons there, perhaps getting tutoring from seniors.

Regardless, the county’s numbers in terms of usage seem skewed, Ortiz said, because there are 60 legal-aged seniors who use the facility regularly, although not all of them are registered users.

“They didn’t count all the different participants,” she said. “Some are registered and some are not but they all go from the surrounding communities. They all come. They use the embroidery machines to do sewing, arts and crafts. They don’t count all of the extra activities that are taking place.”

What makes this all particularly troubling, Olivas said, is the area already is not particularly well served simply because it is so distant from the county’s population center.

“It really does pain me to have to talk about this,” he said. “I realize South Mountain is one of our most underserved areas and removing a facility from an area like that is not ideal.”

Glen Rosales has been a freelance, feature and sports reporter for the Albuquerque Journal and independent news outlets. He is currently the editor of The Independent.

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