A written survey asking the baby boomers of Inver Grove Heights what they want from the community as they age will soon show up in 1,000 mailboxes across the city.

Because adults ages 55 and older now account for almost a quarter of the Inver Grove Heights population, city and school district officials hope to find out what classes, programs and services they would like to keep them active and involved in community life.

The survey will go out in late March and April. Results will be tallied in May and delivered to the city and school district by June, in time to shape fall classes and activities.

"We are interested in the retiring baby boomers -- this group that is 55-plus," said Bernadette MacKenzie, director of community education in Inver Grove Heights, West St. Paul and South St. Paul. "We feel like this is a group that is still active and still very much interested in the kind of programming that both the city and school district offer."

In a time when there is a lot of cynicism about government, the survey tells ''people that we are still listening ... and you can have a direct impact on government," MacKenzie said.

The $10,000 study will be conducted by the National Research Center, based in Boulder, Col. It has developed the Community Assessment Survey of Older Adults -- a survey that is used nationally and will be tailored to Inver Grove Heights.

Experience has shown that baby boomers will take the time to answer a mailed survey of several pages and send it back. The expectation is that at least 400 of the 1,000 residents selected to be representative of the community will complete and return the survey.

Surveys from elsewhere point to seven key things that figure prominently when older people size up their communities: safety, a sense of community, social opportunities, educational opportunities, recreational opportunities, employment opportunities and walking and biking trails.

"So findings suggest that if you want to create a community that is revered by older residents as a place to retire, it will be important to deliver high-quality recreation opportunities, social events and activities and educational opportunities," Thomas I. Miller and Michelle Kobayashi of the research center said in an article they published in 2009.

Inver Grove Heights wants to identify what current services residents like and what other services they might want in the future, said Tracy Petersen, the city's recreation superintendent.

As the largest generation, the baby boomers are a key topic in the world of municipal parks and recreation, Petersen said. "We are trying to figure out how to keep these folks engaged and active.''

The senior population is the fastest-growing segment of the community, said Eric Carlson, Inver Grove Heights parks and recreation director. "We've always had seniors, but we've never had this many seniors.''

As the baby boom generation retires, "Those folks are going to want to do something with their time,'' Carlson said. The survey is intended to help the city understand what that might be and whether they would be willing to pay for the services, he said. Already the city has seen patronage of fitness programs for younger adults skyrocket, Petersen said.

The city's senior center in the community center typically appeals to people who are 70 or older, who go to play cards and see other people their age.

"The new baby boomers don't relate to those terms: 'senior citizen' and 'older adult.' They are not interested in belonging to a senior center,'' MacKenzie said. "They are interested in classes and trips and educational opportunities.''

Attracting people to those programs is important to the city and school district because "engaged citizens are usually more satisfied'' with their city and schools, MacKenzie said.

A previous community survey suggested that "the more people participate in community ed classes, the happier they are with the decisions the school district makes," she said.

For large numbers of residents who no longer have children in the schools, community ed classes bring them into school buildings, she said. "We want them to be comfortable in our buildings. We want them to feel they are getting a value through the school district."

If the survey proves useful for Inver Grove Heights, it may be done in West St. Paul and South St. Paul, MacKenzie said.

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287