BANGOR, Maine — When the Hammond Senior Center closed its doors Oct. 30, 2015, executive director Kathy Bernier said the center wouldn’t resume operations until the facility was sold. That sale happened in November.
Months later, however, the future of the nonprofit organization remains uncertain.
While Bernier continues to fundraise for a July startup in a new location, some members have transitioned to programming and membership at the Bangor Y and other sites and may not return.
Bernier said in an interview earlier this week that many people think the sale of the center’s historic home last fall left the organization with a lot of money. The former bank building sold for $415,000, she said, but half that reverted to the Coury Family Foundation, the original source of its purchase. Of the remainder, she said, moving and storage costs, legal fees and other expenses have consumed all but about $140,000.
“The public is wondering why we haven’t moved into a new place,” she said.
But although a new location has been identified with a targeted move-in date of July, Bernier said the organization has yet to raise the additional $350,000 for her board-approved startup budget of about $500,000. Working out of a temporary office in Bangor’s Coe Building, Bernier said she’s in the process of submitting grant applications to the Maine Community Foundation, the Libra Foundation, the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation and other funding sources. She also continues to reach out to local supporters, including longtime senior center members, but many have stopped donating while the organization is in flux.
Bernier has asked the city of Bangor to budget $30,000 for the center — more than three times its usual allocation — but she won’t know the outcome until May or June.
“If more funding doesn’t come through, Bangor’s not going to have a senior center,” she said.
Assuming the organization does go forward, it will be headquartered at the Airport Mall, Bernier said, in a leased 7,720-square-foot space formerly occupied by Mr. Paperback and an adjoining store. The space lacks the genteel ambiance of the downtown facility, but Bernier says it offers many advantages, including plenty of parking, single-floor accessibility, bus-route convenience and shared maintenance expenses.
There is plenty of space for a workout room, crafts, meetings, meals and other activities enjoyed at the former site, she said.
“And we’ll make it as elegant as we can,” she added, with formal rugs, furniture and the grand piano from the old facility, which are in storage.
Meanwhile, senior center members have found other places to carry on their activities. For example, cribbage players are meeting at the office of the Brewer Housing Authority, artists at the Brewer Congregational Church and yoga practitioners at Nash’s Health, Fitness & Wellness in Bangor.
But many members of the Hammond Street Senior Center have discovered the benefits of the Bangor Y, said member Al Banfield. Initially attracted by the Y’s offer of a free, two-month membership after the senior center closed its doors, Banfield said center members have been impressed by the range of fitness activities available at the Y as well as by the offer of space in its historic Isaac Farrar Mansion for social events such as meals and movie nights. The Y has also offered space for gardens and the opportunity for seniors from the center to work with youngsters from the Y’s youth programs.
Banfield said several members strongly object to Bernier’s decision to sell the center’s workout machines in favor of developing a fitness program that promotes free weights, floor exercises and outdoor recreational activities, such as hiking.
“A lot of us have made the switch to the Y,” Banfield said. “They have really bent over backward to make us feel at home.”
Asked if he would return to the senior center if it reopens at the Airport Mall, he said, bluntly, “I doubt it.”
Bernier fears the loss of active members such as Banfield will further erode support for the center’s future and hopes the Airport Mall site will open before too many make a permanent switch to the Bangor Y.
Diane Dickerson, CEO of the Bangor Y, said it was never her intent to woo members away from the Hammond Street Senior Center.
“I knew if they stopped their health regimen and their social activities, they would take a huge downward turn,” she said, explaining her decision to offer the free Y memberships and access to the Farrar facility. “These people have been displaced. It could be July before they have a new facility. We’re just trying to help in the interim.”