Key Takeaways

  • Thanks to a multi-year, community-wide effort, Highlands Ranch Senior Center is under construction and scheduled to open in 2024.

  • NISC membership has proven invaluable to Highlands Ranch Senior Services Manager Jill Hall for advice on everything from operating policies to volunteer job descriptions to what chairs to buy.

In an area where one in four residents will be 60+ by the year 2030, the construction of a new senior center seemed a natural next step for Highlands Ranch Metro District to enhance programs and services for older adults.

"We're excited to set off on this new journey together, and to continue to build upon the incredible programs and services that serve our community's older adult population," according to the Highlands Ranch Metro District's Senior Center Programs & Services webpage

As construction progresses, interested local adults can purchase an inaugural senior center membership for $20. This membership, which comes with a pin and specially designed key fob, will offer benefits including reduced fees for programs, $10 discount off the annual membership in 2024 when the building opens, invitation to a special pre-opening reception, and free access to virtual programs.

Inaugural members will also be the first to learn of volunteer opportunities at the center. This has proven to be a very successful way to spread the word about the center and build enthusiasm and support as more than 160 people joined in the first week alone.

Two Highlands Ranch Senior Center inaugural members show off their new pins
Two Highlands Ranch Senior Center inaugural members show off their new pins. (Photo courtesy Highlands Ranch Metro District)

What is the history of the Highlands Ranch Senior Center?

Founded in 1981, Highlands Ranch is a 22,000-acre master-planned community located 12 miles south of Denver. While the community has not had a facility dedicated as a senior center, programs have been offered to older adults in a ‘senior center on wheels’  model. 

The Metro District’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Department had one employee dedicated to planning activities for older adults, including presentations at the library or in the recreation centers on topics of interest (i.e., Medicare 101, cardiovascular health), trail walks and games in the park to engage older adults in active pursuits, coffee chats at a local coffee shop, afternoon board games at the recreation center, and dinner and happy hours at restaurants to encourage greater socialization. The Highland Ranch Community Association, an HOA, offered space for a nonprofit group, the Highlands Ranch Senior Club, to offer activities for older adults, but these were limited to a monthly luncheon and weekly card games.

There are a few large senior living complexes  in the area that have recreation activities for their residents. But there was still unmet need and interest in a place where seniors could go and be around others their age and participate in fun and educational experiences. While there is some growing interest around the country in the “senior center without walls” or virtual senior center models, this community, through a comprehensive community consultation process, decided investing in a facility would be the better option. 

As part of a collaborative community process to guide the planning, senior center stakeholders:

  • Identified what programs and services the center would provide.
  • Staff studied 23 sites in the community and opted to build the senior center on property owned by the Metro District with strong community support due to the central location, visibility, proximity to bus routes, shopping, restaurants, and medical services. 
  • Hired an architect to work with staff on facility design options, and the architect developed the building program and concept plans, which included an approximate 20,000 square foot building, outdoor event and activity space, and amenities. The estimated cost of the facility and associated amenities: over $18 million. 

The construction process, documented on the Metro District’s website, began with earth moving in March 2022, and they expect to open in early 2024. 

How is Highlands Ranch Senior Center taking shape?

Jill Hall, former Division Chief of Senior Centers and Community Services with the Baltimore County Department of Aging and current Chair of NISC, was hired in April as the Senior Center Manager to help formalize programming and assist the Public Works and Facilities team in overseeing construction.

Initially, Hall contracted with a senior center design specialist, Lifespan Design Studios, to review  architectural plans and identify finishes that would best suit an older adult population. Lifespan reviewed all the specifications and made several suggestions to improve the functionality for older adults. Simple things like toilet and sink heights, lighting, floor surfaces, paint colors, chair and table styles, and door hardware can make the difference between a building that is user-friendly and one that has tripping hazards or difficulties for those with low vision.

Hall then reviewed the staffing plan and used the NISC service delivery standards to develop job descriptions for each employee. She wanted to make sure the programming the senior center offered reflected a wide array of activities to connect people to each other and to meaningful and healthy activities. They also had to address current issues facing older adults and trends, including fall prevention, technology training, volunteer opportunities, fitness, and arts.

Being a brand-new center, there were no operating policies, job descriptions, volunteer position descriptions, or other administrative forms in place, so these all had to be developed. In addition, staff had to learn RecTrac, the program registration, membership management and facility booking software that was used in Highlands Ranch. And, of course, they had to continue to generate awareness and excitement for the center within the community prior to its official opening. Staff started recruiting for center volunteers early on. These volunteers are participating in local community activities, including non-traditional events like ice cream socials and parades, to spread the word. Wearing their senior center T-shirts, they hand out information about the senior center and its the programs and are very animated when they show off the building renderings.

Prior to the Metro District Board authorizing funding for senior center construction, staff developed a model to determine cost recovery polices and set fees for upcoming programs. In the past, many programs had been free, so adding a membership fee and program fees can meet some resistance. Staff developed a pricing strategy for memberships to allow people to purchase them by the day, month, or year. The Metro District is seeking opportunities for nonprofits to provide scholarships to make sure cost is not a deterrent to anyone.

What will happen at Highlands Ranch Senior Center?

The Highlands Ranch Senior Center will be the centralized hub for all programs and activities for adults 55+  in the community. Having a full range of health, education, recreation, fitness, social and volunteer opportunities available throughout the week will give older adults somewhere they can come to get engaged and be around others.

People will be able to do as much or as little as they want. There will be classes to take every day, places just to sit and chat with others, clubs to join, and meaningful opportunities to volunteer and make a difference.

Older adults can "meet new friends and join clubs or classes with others who share the same interests. Or find meaning or purpose by volunteering or leading a class," Hall told the Public News Service. "Senior centers really give people a reason to get up in the morning and leave their homes, especially when they live alone."

The center will also host intergenerational events and be available for community rentals. 

In all phases of the building process, "Being a member of NISC was invaluable," Hall said. She was able to ask senior center directors from across the country to send examples of the chairs they recently purchased, the bylaws from their 501c3 group,  job descriptions for volunteer positions, and more.

Still not a member of the National Institute for Senior Centers? Join today, membership is free.

If you are building or have recently built a new senior center, or if your center has engaged in a recent study or assessment or is trying out some new programming approaches, we’d love to hear about it. And if you haven't already, we'd encourage you to join the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC). Free to all senior centers (and their personnel), NISC supports senior centers with best practices and innovations in programming, as well as networking and training opportunities. Ask for help, leverage NISC resources, or share your successes like the Highlands Ranch Senior Center. Find out how you can become a NISC Affiliate today.