Seniors are back in action with chair yoga, bingo, water aerobics and more at the newly renovated McKinney Senior Recreation Center and Pool.

Since reopening May 3, the facility on South College Street features a new, reorganized floor plan after a $5 million renovation. The former fitness room is now the billiards room. In addition, the former multipurpose space is now a larger fitness space with more workout equipment. Restrooms, showers and common areas were all upgraded in the project.

The McKinney Parks and Recreation staff added roughly 2,000 square feet of new space by repurposing patio areas, bringing the total square footage up to 25,000.

The renovations come at a time when seniors, many of whom were isolated for months due to heightened risk during the pandemic, need a more personal connection with the community.

Center Supervisor Laura Cegelski said her goal ​​when she first started working at the recreation center nearly 20 years ago was to make it feel like a “home away from home” for seniors.

Although some members still are not comfortable being around others due to COVID-19, Cegelski said memberships and visits are beginning to trend toward where the center was prior to the pandemic.

“This is their all-inclusive place,” she said. “They can enhance their lives, or enrich their lives [and] make new friends.”

Building connections

Many seniors were eager to emerge from COVID-19 shutdowns and be active again, according to Cegelski.

From Jan. 1, 2019, to March 13, 2020, when the senior center closed due to the pandemic, the facility reported 67,902 visits in those 15 months. From “sneak preview opportunities” after the renovations on April 19 to Dec. 1, it logged 36,398 visits in six and a half months.

“They were excited to get back out of the COVID[-19] pandemic and get back into their daily routines,” Cegelski said.

McKinney’s four recreation centers all see high traffic, said Parks and Recreation Director Michael Kowski. That usage helped justify millions of dollars from park dedication fees and money from the McKinney Community Development Corporation.

The senior center was first built in 2002, and Kowski said it was due for a transformation. In addition, the Old Settler’s Recreation Center saw a $5.2 million renovation that was completed in the spring after a year of construction.

Kowski said the McKinney Recreation Center at Towne Lake is next up for renovations. An expanded fitness area and updated restrooms are on the way.

In addition, the Apex Centre on Alma Road will soon have a new sauna and signage to go along with its new NinjaCross obstacle course over the pool.

“We decided pretty early on that we would make them feel like brand new facilities and really change the character of them,” Kowski said.

Kowski said several city employees and residents of other cities in the region take advantage of public recreation centers in McKinney. His department, he said, is “always trying to add new stuff.”

“We’re trying to build connections, have people connect to their community more, meet people, connect with friends and connect with maybe a healthier lifestyle,” Kowski said.

The Lunch Bunch

Members at the senior center also enjoy each other’s company outside the facility’s walls.

Once a month, the Lunch Bunch will meet at the senior center, then head out to a restaurant in the area. The Lunch Bunch is one of several groups with which members can choose to travel.

To transport the Lunch Bunch, the senior center recently retired its trolley vehicle for a more practical, luxury bus, Cegelski said. The trolley was a decorative vehicle with a green exterior, but was not comfortable, Kowski said. Cegelski said the new bus offers more room and leather seating.

Cegelski said area museums, zoos and farmers markets are also destinations for members to enjoy.

“They like to go travel to different venues. But a lot of times, they don’t like to go alone,” she said. “This is a retired population, and they don’t have that connection to the workplace.”

Similar to the Lunch Bunch, the Collin County Meals on Wheels program has served members at the senior center for nearly 20 years. Senior center staff said members connect with one another through the meal delivery program.

Linda Brown, McKinney Meals on Wheels manager, said about 275 members are served on a monthly basis at the senior center.

Aquatic activities at the senior center provide another outlet for members to make connections, said Aquatics Supervisor Natalia Robalik. She said water aerobics classes are often fully booked.

The lobby outside the senior center’s pool was redesigned to give a more welcoming atmosphere for members, Robalik said. Four changing rooms beside the pool were also added.

Robalik said she has worked at the senior center for 16 years. She said many seniors start their day with aquatic exercise on a daily basis.

“​​It’s a community,” Robalik said. “If somebody is not present on a certain day, people ask questions.”

‘This place saved my life’

Melissa resident Gloria Brewer said she spends whole days at the senior center. Formerly an Arkansas resident, she said the facility enables her to connect with new faces and make friends.

On every day except Friday, she can be seen playing domino games such as Mexican Train and 42, as well as the Hand and Foot card game and bingo.

“I just like coming here,” Brewer said. “It gives me something to do.”

For some members, the senior center serves to strengthen bonds. Joyce Kerby and Donna Ray live in the same McKinney neighborhood and try to visit the center together each week.

Kerby said she’s lived in McKinney for 15 years and has visited the senior center for 10 years. The center’s recent renovations boosted her ability to stay active.

“It’s much better,” Kerby said. “To work out, all we [used to have] were just the treadmills in a much smaller room. So this is really awesome, and people use it.”

Norman Robertson said he often enjoys playing Mexican Train and running poker sessions at the senior center. He said he has been a member at the senior center since moving to McKinney in 2005.

He said becoming a member improved his quality of life as he built friendships. Robertson said someone at the senior center once loaned him the money to purchase a new car.

“It’s the difference between being by yourself or being with a lot of people. Which one would you pick?” Robertson said. “This place saved my life, basically, because I didn’t have anybody. I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t have anything.”