A collective vision for the future of up-Island senior services began to take shape on Wednesday morning, when a subcommittee of the Howes House building committee presented findings from a series of focus groups meant to guide their renovation plans.

The presentation comes on the heels of an Oct. 6 joint meeting of the three up-Island towns where representatives from Chilmark and Aquinnah expressed reservations about splitting costs for a project with an estimated $8 million price tag.

Bernadette Lyons, chair of the subcommittee, introduced the project before turning things over to Cindy Trish, executive director of Healthy Aging MV, a senior advocacy program which brought research expertise to the focus group analysis.

The survey included 59 participants, with 80 per cent over the age of 65. Sixty-five per cent were female, and 83 per cent live on the Island full time.

“It was so delightful to be able to meet with people in person,” said Ms. Trish, who described six, 90-minute focus group sessions, which gathered input from both up-Island seniors and agencies involved in providing senior services. She said the groups indicated several strengths of the operation, including a welcoming and skilled staff and the providing of valued services for the 80+ category.

In order to identify the areas that needed to be improved, Ms. Trish said, the group explored key “need states” for the building. Such needs included opportunities for social connecting, learning activities, senior assistance services and the opportunity to give back to younger members of the community.

While the facility does a good job guiding up-Island residents through the aging process and providing resources for the elderly, respondents said, they also noted that it struggled with the perception that it was only for the very old or infirm, had limited hours of operation and could do a better job of reaching out to Aquinnah and Chilmark residents.

Ms. Trish presented a series of suggested changes for the Howes House that might improve its usefulness to up-Island seniors, including expanded hours, making the building more ADA compliant and accessible, expanding the kitchen and providing transportation to and from the building. Respondents requested more organized programming, like dance, gardening and cooking classes, as well as reading groups, book talks and intergenerational events that could include coffee talks and open mics.

“We believe there is tremendous opportunity for the Howes House,” she said

Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter, 3rd, a West Tisbury select board member who also sits on the building committee, thanked the group for a “very exciting and forward-thinking presentation.” But he also gave a few words of caution. “The site and the existing building is restricting a lot of what we can do there,” he said.

Mr. Manter also said that the building committee will be entering negotiations with the architectural firm Keenan + Kenny, the same firm hired to design the tri-town ambulance building. The designer, he said, had already expressed sensitivity to the design needs of a building meant to serve seniors.