Painting classes are among the activities seniors enjoy at the Whispering Pines Senior Center near Chilili. Although it will be closing, Bernalillo County officials have found a new, nearby site. Credit: (Courtesy Bernalillo County)

The Whispering Pines Senior Center saga seems to have taken a turn for the positive as Bernalillo County officials have committed to upgrading a nearby building and use it as a new meal and activity site in Chilili.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Eric Olivas (Courtesy photo)

The county plans to renovate a former fire station – that is located about 10 miles south of Tijeras on NM 337 – about a mile from Whispering Pines, said Debbie Jo Almager, Bernalillo County director of Parks and Recreation and Open Space.

The county has been concerned about water issues at the senior center since at least 2019, and it has gotten to the point where the well could fail at any time, county officials said.

The county in 2022 secured funding through the State Legislature for $457,000 in capital outlay funds to fix the issue, but the long-term prospects were so negative that the bonds were never sold.

Now that a fix appears to be on the horizon, the county will look to regain that funding and use it fix up the new site, Almager said.

“We did find another location. It will take some work,” she said. “We’ll be able to go back to the state and ask for the funding and try to make some improvements for the facility.”

The building that is about 2,000 square feet – comparable to Whispering Pines — is currently little more than a shell, but the possibilities for the ability to meet the needs of the community seem bright, she said.

“It needs to be cleaned up,” Almager said. “But at least there’s water.”

Whispering Pines has extensive recreational equipment, like a pool table, long-arm sewing machines and pottery gear, but all of that should fit in the new site, said Veronica Cordova, acting manager for county Senior Services.

“Equipment from the current center would be relocated for the continuity of activities meaningful to the older adults in the community,” she wrote in n email to County Commissioner Eric Olivas and Whispering Pines advocates. “The site would be able to host community meetings and transportation services would still be provided to ensure the senior community does not lose important key services and activities. We will be working to get the new site operational before ceasing operations at the present location.”

In October, county officials said Whispering Pines would have to be shut down because fixing the water issues was not cost-effective and the lack of water pressure from its well presented a fire hazard.

Local residents began a petition drive and sought help from local elected officials, who began to seek other solutions beyond simply transporting people to the senior center in Tijeras.

“Whispering Pines Senior Center has served the community for nearly 30 years,” Cordova wrote. “The discontinuation of congregate meal services and activities from the current site was not taken lightly.”

Local advocate Lupe Arellanes said she recently received a tour of the proposed site and came away quite pleased.

“It looks promising,” she said. “The space will accommodate what we need. There are four smaller rooms and they said they could knock down some wall to make some bigger rooms. I think it’s going to work out swimmingly, fingers crossed.”

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Local Senior Center Advocates Fight Closure

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…

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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