Senior center needs update

Users want parking, a modern kitchen and fresh paint

February 03, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The first time Lucy Swaim went to South Carroll Senior Center, the building seemed so stark and unwelcoming, she almost turned around.

"I was disappointed in this big, cinder-block structure," said Swaim. "It reminds me of a school in the '50s. We need to get into 2000."

The county's oldest and least attractive senior center serves its most populous area and is long overdue for improvements. The two-story, concrete-block building on Bartholow Road was an elementary school and remnants from its classroom days are everywhere, including aging kitchen equipment, walls of blackboards and a tattered stage curtain.

Swaim, who lives in Eldersburg, recommended a complete face-lift to the center's renovation committee meeting yesterday.

"Get rid of the yellow and shrimp paint and give this place some pizazz," she urged.

The committee had sent about 15,000 questionnaires to residents of the area, asking how the center could best serve its community. About 75 responses were returned, most from people 71 to 85 years old.

"We asked what uses and activities people were interested in and what renovations the building needed," said Peg Sheeler, renovation committee chairwoman.

Those who use the center most said it sorely needs more parking, a modern kitchen, fresh paint inside and out and new furniture.

"This building just looks old and it is saying, `You don't need anything better because you are old, too,' " said Swaim. "Westminster and Mount Airy have new centers. We should, too."

The committee will review the comments and prepare a report for the county commissioners.

Janet B. Flora, chief of the county Bureau on Aging, said most requests were feasible, with the exception of creating a ballroom for dance classes. An outdoor pavilion, walking path and art room are all possible, she said.

"Basically, this is a sound building, but you can still tell it is an old school," said Flora. "Folks want something less institutional. We can make it attractive, functional and more suited to today's older adult, who is more active and independent and wanting to stay that way."

The center offers yoga, tai chi and computer classes. It has a stage for its drama club, a billiards room and a slightly uneven dance and exercise floor.

"You find yourself losing your footing once in a while," said Bill Elswick, dance instructor.

Plans call for improvements to the 11,000 square feet of space, much of it in classrooms. Flora does not foresee an expansion, although adequate land and public utilities would make additions possible.

South Carroll claims to be the least attractive of the county's seven senior centers, Flora said. But it has one of the most active groups -- daily attendance often reaches 70.

"It is growing and it is in an actively growing area," said Flora.

South Carroll has had a surge in senior housing in the past few years and many of those residents participate in center activities and classes. Its central Eldersburg location would make it ideal for a community center. Area recreation councils and a church group use the building in the evenings and on weekends.

"We could draw more people with improvements," said Ruth Moreau. "I am for anything we can do to make it more attractive. I love it here. We have great people, but this building is so old. It's the pits."

The center's appearance drives people away, the seniors said. Compared with other senior centers in Carroll, "ours looks sick," said Eleanor LaBare.

Like Swaim, Penny DiVenti drove by the building for months wondering what could possibly be inside. It resembles a workhouse on the outside and the interior is not much better, she said.

"You look down the corridors and it is so unattractive," she said.

The center has a suitable dining area but a hopelessly small and outdated kitchen, which Flora called cramped, obsolete and inefficient.

"Our kitchen is so small that when food is delivered for as many as 45 people, it is difficult to work," said Sheeler.

Everyone agreed the hand-me-down furniture has to go.

"It is vintage, but not like fine wine and cheese," Flora said.

Flora said the improvements will happen, although not overnight. The commissioners will have to approve funding and Flora's department will look into the possibility of state grants.

"This building has a lot of possibility," said Moreau. "I hope I live long enough to see it happen."

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