Grateful seniors return to revamped Arnold center Yearlong renovations add space, cost $800,000

March 06, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Sitting at a long table touching up a cup she made in a ceramics class, Olga Halamandaris, 77, appraised Arnold Senior Center, which reopened yesterday after renovations that took a year.

"We're so lucky to have so many fancy things," said Halamandaris, the center's official hugger, who lives in Severna Park. "We're getting spoiled."

"That's OK," replied Sharon Poet, director of the county-run center. "We deserve to be spoiled after all we've been through."

About 100 of the county's seniors who go regularly to the center on Church Road in Arnold have used cramped quarters in the basement of the YWCA in Arnold since March 18 while waiting for about $800,000 in renovations to be completed.

Yesterday, their wait was over.

Nearly 80 seniors piled into the building yesterday morning. About a dozen took an aerobics class where participants did the pony, cha-cha and Charleston to "Macho Man" while hefting small water bottles for weights.

Another dozen worked on a quilt that will be raffled to raise money for the center; others, including Halamandaris, did ceramics in a new classroom with new cabinets. Still others sat chatting over pastries, waiting for lunch in a new multipurpose room that has one wall all windows.

It's a big improvement from before, when the center was hurting for space and creature comforts.

And the furniture? "We looked like a Goodwill store," said Poet. "We had all this mix-and-match stuff," and, "our quote unquote lounge was 8 by 10."

The new common room holds about a dozen tables. At one of them sat Alverta Neidert, 78, who enjoys oil painting, crocheting and music classes at the center, which charges members $10 a year and accepts donations for van shuttle service and daily lunches. "It's beautiful," she said.

The center also got a library, more office space, carpeting, storage space for supplies, an upgraded reception area and separate rooms for counseling, tax preparation sessions and health screenings.

It also underwent changes that put it in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to Assistant Director Edward J. Casey.

"We have more administrative space, which we sorely needed," he said.

The center received $500,000 in federal funds, $283,000 in state funds and $25,000 in county funds for the renovation, according to Patricia McGarty, special assistant for planning and administration with Anne Arundel County Department of Aging.

While architects were taking down walls, the 100 regulars were moved to the YWCA nearby in Arnold, to a smaller, windowless space with low ceilings.

The lease agreement stipulated that seniors could not park there, so they would leave their cars at a county site more than a mile away and catch a shuttle.

The space was so small that several classes had to be eliminated. Participation dropped off by about one-fourth.

"It was small, it was dark, it was dingy, it was horrible," Poet said.

"No windows at all," remarked Louise Poulin, 71, of Arnold, who takes line dancing and aerobics. She said the ceiling was so low that she'd caution dance instructors not to have dancers raise their arms overhead too much.

"I said, 'Don't go too high -- we're going to knock the ceiling down,' " she said.

The renovation was supposed to have been finished in December, but delays kept the seniors at the YWCA until yesterday. "Everybody's been having a countdown," Poet said.

By midday, many of the regulars had finished exclaiming about the new look, which includes green molding on the walls, mauve furnishings, sleek desks, and new telephones.

Sitting with a group of other seniors, Ruth Messick, 80, from Cape St. Claire seemed contented and impressed with her new home away from home, a place where many seniors have their only hot meal of the day and their only social activity.

"We couldn't get back here quick enough," she said.

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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