Renovations to begin in summer at Hispanic community center

Space expanding to serve a growing population

May 10, 1999|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

Privacy at the cramped Centro de la Comunidad office in East Baltimore is a luxury. Battleship-gray filing cabinets serve as room dividers and crude conversation buffers.

For three years, the staff at the outreach and social service center has managed to work there, practically whispering during job placement or family counseling sessions. But as Baltimore's Hispanic community has grown to an estimated 40,000, the center, in the 2700 block of Pulaski Highway, has been pressed to expand.

With a long sought-after $200,000 state grant awarded at the end of the legislative session, the center will undergo renovations this summer that will almost double its size.

Preliminary plans call for the unused second floor to be turned into office space and for a stairway to be built in the middle of the former hardware store.

"The staff has been great in that they have been able to adjust to the situation," said Haydee M. Rodriguez, the center's executive director. "But it's not the most comfortable situation." The upstairs renovations, Rodriguez said, will produce more work space and a conference room, which will allow the health clinic to expand and the center to provide more services, including computer training.

State Sen. Perry Sfikas, who was instrumental in getting more than $2 million in funding for Southeast Baltimore projects, including the Baltimore American Indian Center, Living Classrooms Foundation and the Fells Point Creative Alliance, said the center's expansion is crucial to providing service to area Hispanics.

"We wanted to make sure they could meet the needs of the growing community by providing employment services, health care and other social services," the Baltimore Democrat said. "This will help the community build infrastructure."

The center is increasing its outreach by adding services.

"While this expansion is going to improve on service delivery, I see ourselves growing in other areas," Rodriguez said.

Late next month, a staff worker from the center will begin spending one day a week in Charles Village. The center, with the help of local college students, is preparing a survey to assess the Hispanic community's needs.

The study results will help center officials decide what services are needed in Baltimore.

The center will continue its services during construction. Rodriguez said she is negotiating to buy and renovate a nearby rowhouse for use as temporary office space. It will be used as an extra office and model for potential homebuyers after work on the main office is completed.

Initial estimates for the center's renovations were about $325,000, Rodriguez said, so the center's board of directors must decide whether to scale back plans or start a capital campaign to raise the extra funds. Plans for an elevator, which would have cost $100,000, have been dropped.

Board members hesitate to invest too much money in the building because they bought it for $54,000, Rodriguez said.

"We need to rehab this place," she said, "but we need to be realistic."

Pub Date: 5/10/99

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