BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — A group of seniors has taken their decks of cards elsewhere, moving their Monday duplicate bridge game from the Danvers Senior Center to the Peabody one after the Danvers center announced a $5 fee to play.
For several years, the group had been running the game at the Senior Center independent of the programming there, though the activity is listed in the center’s newsletter. They had not been paying to use the space.
The center has since dropped the fee to $3, with the money going to the nonprofit Danvers Friends of the Council on Aging, which supports many of the activities at the center. That wasn’t enough to keep the game in Danvers, however.
“Now, all of a sudden, you have to pay,” said Danvers resident David Tapparo. “Why don’t you put a turnstile at the door?”
Senior Center Director Pam Parkinson said it’s “not a fee just for duplicate bridge,” noting that the center has a new fee structure, but she declined to comment further. She referred questions to Assistant Town Manager Diane Norris.
Norris likened the group’s use of the senior center to someone deciding to hold a party and then using someone else’s house to do so.
“These people are in a room at the center for three hours, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable they should have to contribute,” Norris said.
Outside groups often ask to use town facilities, she said, and even though these spaces are taxpayer-funded, there are fees associated with their use for upkeep or custodial time.
Parkinson put the fee in place “because they occupy a space that could be used for other programs,” Norris said. “Pam’s chosen, and we obviously support it, that they should be contributing in some way.”
Tapparo, a 74-year-old retired GE worker who has lived in town for about 40 years, said a group of seniors, led by the late Dave Bean, started the game at the senior center about 10 years ago. There was no fee to play cards there, he said.
Over the years, the bridge games have grown from eight to 10 tables, drawing 30 to 40 players a week. There are 63 players on a list Tapparo maintains; about half of them are Danvers residents, and the rest come from out of town.
When the game started, the Friends of the Council on Aging paid for tables, boards and bidding boxes, which have remained at the senior center. The game does not involve the exchange of money.
The new fee was outlined in the Senior Center’s August newsletter, which lists the Monday duplicate bridge game as a “special interest class” and charges $5 for members of the Friends of the Danvers Council on Aging and $7 for nonmembers. The fee for members has since been dropped to $3, Norris said.
“It’s ridiculous to pay that kind of money just to play a card game,” Tapparo said.
Last year’s August newsletter does not list the duplicate bridge game as a special interest class, but it does show up in the schedule.
The new fee structure was meant to encourage more seniors to become Friends of the Danvers Council on Aging, with a reduced rate for members for programs. The minimum donation to become a member is $25 per individual. Norris said the center runs its own bridge program on Tuesdays.
Tapparo said the duplicate bridge game did not cost the senior center any money to host, unlike other activities that carry a fee to pay for an instructor. While the center does have upkeep, Tapparo said he can go in there at any time and play pool, work out on an exercise machine, or play cribbage with a friend, and there is no charge to do so.
To find a new space for the game, the players looked at other senior centers and were welcomed in Peabody’s, where they do not have to pay to play.
Tapparo, who used to volunteer at the Danvers Senior Center, said he has not been back since, and he and others have donated to the Peabody center.
“I am very upset at Danvers,” Tapparo said. “It’s really a black eye for the Danvers Senior Center.”
Selectman David Mills, who turns 71 in two weeks, said he was “unsettled” when he heard the senior center was charging a fee to play bridge. “From the outside looking in, I was troubled,” Mills said.
He said if seniors want to get together to play bridge, they should be able to do so in Danvers.
Mills said he does not want to criticize the center’s staff, however, because he has not looked into what was behind the fee. Parkinson has a “priceless, superb reputation,” he added.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.