Bernalillo County Commissioner Eric Olivas (Courtesy photo)

Advocates looking to curtail the planned December closing of the Whispering Pines Senior Center in Chilili are taking their fight to the state and federal level.

Bernalillo County officials have said the senior center has a water well issue that cannot be addressed without an expensive overhaul. And officials claim the center’s use does not warrant the expense.

But, advocates pointed out in a county commission meeting this week, the center was allocated $457,000 in capital outlay funds through an approved mill levy in a state Legislative bill passed in 2022 and signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. But those bonds were never sold.

“We see this as misuse and mismanagement of taxpayer dollars,” according to a letter to District 5 Commissioner Eric Olivas that was signed by local advocates and Whispering Pines users Lorraine Ortiz, Guadalupe Arellanes and Jim Arellanes.

The group has gathered a petition with more than 250 signatures, and included letters – some hand-written — from 18 local residents who regularly use the center, which is an area lunch site for seniors, as well as a place for them to socialize, play pool, sew and catch up with friends at other times of the day.

“We find it unacceptable that while senior centers in other, more-affluent parts of our county are expanding, ours is being shuttered,” the letter said.

The plan, Jim Arellenas said at the commission meeting, was to solicit the aid of Congressional delegates Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

Olivas, who just took office in January, said in an email that he is looking into the capital allocation.

In an earlier story in The Independent, he said he favored establishing a cooperative agreement for use of the nearby Chilili Land Grant Multi-Purpose Center and Gym and using any money earmarked for upgrades to Whispering Pines at the multi-purpose center.

“It is a really tough situation,” Olivas said earlier. “The challenge is that from a facility standpoint, the bottom line is the well is in a very precarious place. It doesn’t have enough pressure for the fire suppression system.”

And using hauled water – which has essentially become a fact of life for many who live in the South Mountain area — would quickly get cost prohibitive, he said, as would retrofitting the system to handle it.

But local residents see it as greatly impacting their way of life.

“Please keep the center open,” wrote Robert Kastning. “I live alone and don’t cook. The hot lunches really mean a lot to me. I also enjoy meeting with my neighbors and friends. Closing the center would be a great loss to our community.”

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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