Senior center, 'life's blood' of woman, 94, is casualty of surge in school enrollments

January 21, 1995|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

Elizabeth Hall is 94 years old, and until two years ago she drove her 1973 Buick to her "job" at the Rosedale Senior Center.

"I had to give up driving after I dislocated my shoulder bowling," she said. "They changed the darned lighting at the bowling alley, and I missed a step."

Ms. Hall represents one-half of the demographic squeeze on Baltimore County. The other half is a steadily growing school population, recovering rapidly from a long decline in enrollment that began in 1972.

The result, in this case, is that the senior center is being forced out of its home in the former Rosedale Elementary School at 8200 Old Philadelphia Road.

County school enrollment was 134,000 in 1971, the historic peak. Enrollment dropped to 80,600 by 1986 before beginning a steady rise to the current 99,000-plus. It is expected to grow by 18,000 in the next 10 years, according to school system projections.

The county's senior citizen population also is growing. There were about 136,000 people 60 or older in 1990. The figure is projected to be 141,000 by the end of this year, according to figures from the county Department of Aging.

The Rosedale seniors share their building with the Rosedale Center for Alternative Studies, and some school administrative offices.

The school system now wants to take back the 9,000 square feet of space the seniors occupy and has asked them to be out by April 1996.

The alternative center, for high school students who have not been successful in regular programs, has small classes and emphasizes computer work and outdoor education. It currently enrolls about 100 youngsters.

"That's about as many as we can handle in the space we have, and we need to expand," said Principal Barry Williams.

George Shea, president of the Rosedale Senior Center council, said the county has been promising permanent quarters for the seniors for years.

"We're happy with these facilities because of the central location to our membership," Mr. Shea said.

"We can understand the school system's needs, but it seems like the county can always think of some way not to help us. We want to see something fulfilled, and we would be very grateful."

The senior center has about 180 members, of which about 120 come regularly to work on crafts, attend exercise and dancing classes, play bingo, shoot pool, take trips and make friends.

The county is taking the seniors' loss of the facility seriously, said Charles L. Fisher Jr., director of the Department of Aging.

"We're working with the Board of Education, and it is possible that modular housing can be built for the seniors on the property," he said. "We have to identify a source for the money."

A modular building such as the ones being built by the school system to accommodate the increased enrollment costs $700,000 and more.

Meanwhile, Ms. Hall, who has three children, nine grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and a great-great grandchild on the way, continues to do her thing three days a week at the Rosedale Senior Center.

"She handles lunch reservations, sets up the coffee service and the tables, checks supplies, everything," said Helen Bronstein, acting director of the center.

"The center is my life's blood," Ms. Hall said. "I would go nuts looking at the four walls."

She is in good health, except for a "racing heart."

"I told my doctor my heart has to race to keep up with me," she said as she signed up about 50 seniors for the beef barbecue, apple sauce, carrots, corn and milk that would be served for lunch.

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