Park officials assure patrons their concerns will carry weight in decision

by: TIMES FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District leaders are considering the possibility of patrons ages 35 and older using the popular Elsie Stuhr Center during low-use times.Just because there’s talk about lowering the age limit to use the Elsie Stuhr Center’s senior-oriented facilities during certain hours doesn’t mean anything’s going to change.

But if it does, it will likely follow a long, thoughtful process with input from many sources, regular center patrons included. And whatever decision is made will not affect regulars’ ability to use the facilities as they’ve come to enjoy them.

That’s the message Bob Wayt, the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District’s communications director, hopes to convey after several Elsie Stuhr Center patrons expressed concerns about the possibility of 35- to 54-year-olds sharing fitness space and equipment with them on evenings and weekends.

The proposal, part of a comprehensive plan update to maximize use of park district facilities, the center would still be restricted to seniors only — those age “55 and better” — during its “peak times” Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We’re not proposing any change at this time,” Wayt said on Tuesday. “We’re just looking at the possibility of patrons age 35 and older using the facility during low-use times. We want to make sure we’re making the most efficient use of a public asset.”

Seven patrons spoke during the audience time portion of Monday night’s park district Board of Directors meeting. They asked the board to keep age limits and usage guidelines at the center as they are. One patron, Linda Brown, presented a petition with more than 100 signatures from those opposing any age limit changes.

Board members Larry Pelatt and President Joe Blowers assured the speakers that no change would be implemented without patrons’ input, and would fall within long-established goals to make facilities more accessible to district citizens.

Lisa Novak, the district’s superintendent of programs and special activities, recently shared an update of THPRD’s comprehensive facilities plan, which recommends a review of how district facilities are used and whether other activities could be accommodated to maximize their use for the widest range of patrons.

“It’s not just about the Stuhr Center,” Wayt noted. “It’s all facilities based on recreation.”

District administrators have discussed this idea with the Stuhr Center’s Advisory Committee, but that’s as far as the proposal has progressed.

The district already allows different ages to use the Stuhr Center for specialized fitness and learning programs during off-peak hours after 5 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays, averaging 20 participants weekly, from age 13 on up, Wayt noted.

Children and adults younger than 35 are not part of the consideration for lowering the age limits during non-peak times at the center.

“Regardless of the ultimate decision, we realize what a special place the Stuhr Center is for those 55 and older,” he said. “They go there for a safe and social experience, and we intend to protect it for them during the time they visit the center.”

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