NORMAL — Things have finally leveled off for Normal Township's senior Activity and Recreation Center — not a moment too soon, joked one member.
"It’s a great organization, and I’m glad to see it being very successful. Almost seems like it’s getting too crowded at times,” said Rich Plotkin of Normal, one of almost 4,000 who use ARC, far beyond officials' expectations when it moved last April. "We really enjoy the place.”
Plotkin and his wife, Carol, are among ARC members who signed up for an annual membership when the new building opened in spring 2016, tried it out and kept coming back even after they had to ante up for a second year at $30 per person or $50 per couple.
Membership peaked in March, just before the first wave of renewals, but has stayed relatively stable since then, defying questions about whether members who signed up to see the new facility at 600 E. Willow St. would fall away.
That's thanks in part to the facility's staff, which has made a special effort to not only keep adding programs but remind members about looming expiration dates and find out what ARC needs to keep them coming back.
Many members are satisfied with the facility's range of activities, including a fitness center, sports, card games, classes, lectures and field trips, said Communications Coordinator Samantha Oleson — though some would like ARC to offer programming after 4 p.m. or stay open after 7 p.m.
"I had two ladies email me to say, 'I'm not retired yet and can't get to the things I want to get to,'" said Oleson; members must be at least 55 years old. "But what I get most of the time is, 'I didn't know my membership was up for renewal, but I plan on renewing.'"
Later programming and operating hours are possible but not currently in the works, said Operations Director Mindy Morgan. The facility has increased programming and amenities on Saturday, however, by far its least-busy day.
"Maybe we're not communicating the things we offer really well to the working group," said Morgan. "We're still tweaking things as we grow."
Oleson said communication has improved as well, including through a quarterly email newsletter available to the public. She's also focused on reaching members by email; she has nearly 3,300 on file for a monthly newsletter and reminders if their membership has expired.
"It says, 'Here are some benefits of your membership, overview of programs and ... if you haven't renewed, why?'" said Oleson. "Hopefully it will all help people feel they're more connected in more ways."
Officials are also getting ready to add credit card payments to their system in January, which will make automatic renewals possible for the first time.
Officials also plan to eventually add more tenants to the facility's second floor, which currently houses Faith in Action and Illinois State University's Speech and Hearing Clinic, but that's on hold until those spaces are refinished. Currently they're used for storage.
Plotkin, a semi-retired television engineer, said he remains satisfied with what the facility offers. He started attending the previous senior center, at 1110 Douglas St., for Tai Chi after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and he goes to the same classes at ARC, on average three times per week.
"Off hand, I can’t think of anything (to add). ... It would be nice to have a bowling alley,” he said with a laugh.