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Seniors spar with city over West Roxbury community center

David J. Gorman Jr. says afternoons at the Ohrenberger Community Center are too hectic for seniors. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

For more than 40 years, the Ohrenberger Community Center served as a morning respite for West Roxbury seniors to play bingo, practice yoga, or take line dancing lessons.

But last fall, the seniors said they had to cancel their morning activities after the Boston Center for Youth & Families changed the Ohrenberger manager’s schedule from mornings, when fewer younger people use the center, to peak programming time in the afternoons and evenings.

The schedule shift made things untenable for Ohrenberger senior citizens, who are demanding the city restore the morning hours of the center’s administrative coordinator, said David J. Gorman Jr., an 86-year-old West Roxbury resident pushing for the change. What’s more, he and others say, there is no room for seniors when the crush of teenagers comes in after school.

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“The place is a zoo’’ in the evenings, said Gorman. “You can’t bring seniors in there.”

Michael Sulprizio, deputy commissioner for the Boston Centers for Youth & Families, said there is no reason the senior programming had to end. The city has ensured that city workers — covering the preschool and the front desk — staff the facility in the mornings, and seniors have never been denied access to the building.

He said it is up to the Ohrenberger council, a nonprofit group of volunteers that includes Gorman, to hire a senior coordinator to run morning activities. But so far, Sulprizio said, the council, which partners with the city and plans programming, has refused.

“We take seniors very seriously,’’ Sulprizio said. “We have senior programming across all of our sites. Our intention was never for [the senior programming] to end.”

The issue is pitting the city against the seniors’ interest in restoring the operations of the Ohrenberger center to the way they were. At the heart of the dispute is a 1970s agreement between the council and the city, and a push by Gorman and others to get the city to honor it.

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The agreement was signed by former mayor Kevin White and the former Office of Community Services, which is now Boston Centers for Youth & Families. It says, according to Gorman, that the council would plan activities at the center and the city would provide an administrative coordinator to supervise staff, implement program activities, and oversee the building’s security.

That means the administrator should start in the mornings, Gorman added, when seniors are likely to come in.

“BCYF has apparently decided to scrap the city’s end of the 40-year partnership . . . and will, thereby, exclude our council from services of city paid personnel from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in spite of the fact that we are open and have been producing programming in that time period for over 40 years,’’ Gorman said in an e-mail. But the city said the 1970s plan is no longer in use. They’re working on a new agreement with the site councils that partner with all of the city’s community centers, they added.

The city has 16 school-based community centers that, like the Ohrenberger’s, are located on school property. There are also 13 “free-standing” centers.

City officials said they have limited access to the school-based facilities when classes are in session, prompting the officials to re-examine how to make the best use of its staff during peak hours when teenagers are free to play pickup basketball, take arts classes, or do gymnastics.

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Officials said that, in an effort to increase efficiency, they decided to schedule its highest level staff member — the administrative coordinator — at school-based centers to an afternoon shift, from 1:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. That person used to start around 9 a.m.

Officials said the city is paying a staff member to run the morning preschool at the Ohrenberger. A city-paid worker is also staffing the front desk — starting at 8 a.m. — to answer the phones and check people in and out of the building.

Sulprizio said it is up to the site council, a nonprofit, to hire a coordinator to run senior programs in the mornings.

Gorman said he has been a member of the Ohrenberger Community Council since 1974 and it has never had a senior coordinator. The council has a budget of $250,000. It has seven regular staff members who use the building, Gorman said.

Cathy Cummings, the 80-year-old president of the site council, said the group needs a top-level person in the building to oversee activities there. “For us, it’s a safety issue. With seniors anything can happen,’’ said Cummings, who acknowledged the council will eventually hire a senior coordinator.

She said that previously the council had been paying the preschool worker and the gym teacher — both city employees — to run programs. But the council ended that arrangement in February 2016.


Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com.

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