Grant may fund fixes for center

Senior facility built in 1940s is oldest of five in county

$375,000 repair planned

Boom in housing for the elderly could increase use

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

A combination of state and county money could give Carroll's oldest senior center $375,000 for much-needed renovations.

County commissioners voted yesterday to proceed with plans for improving the South Carroll Senior Center, an aging building that serves the most populated and fastest-growing area of the county.

State money would pay half the cost if the county is successful in a competitive grant application process. The grant, which Carroll's Bureau on Aging is seeking, requires a 50-50 cash match from the county. Funds would be available in July 2001.

The cinder block building, the oldest of the county's five senior centers, is long overdue for renovations. Built on Bartholow Road in the 1940s, the one-time elementary school houses remnants of its academic years, including walls of blackboards and a small outdated kitchen.

"By recycling a school building for a senior center, we are practicing good stewardship of what we have," said Janet B. Flora, chief of the county Bureau on Aging. "But we need to bring it into the 21st century."

The center should be a place that is appealing and useful, said Flora. With about 11,000 square feet on two floors, the building offers ample room to grow.

Plans call for exterior upgrades, such as a brick facade, increased parking, an awning at the entrance, better lighting and a new outdoor deck off an enlarged kitchen.

Interior renovations would create space for offices, too. The center's back yard would have a pavilion and a walking trail.

"There is not a lot of structural work," said Flora. "But this building predates the 1950s, and it is just unappealing. It needs functional and aesthetic updates."

Senior housing is booming in South Carroll and participation at the center is certain to increase, she said.

"We have to project usage in our grant application and with this center, that is not hard to do," said Flora.

"We have information on several housing complexes for seniors, and there are about 400 units now under construction," she said.

Alice Bennett, president of the Carroll chapter of the AARP and an Eldersburg resident, said the former school building pales in comparison to the county's other senior centers. Three are relatively new and the Taneytown center, housed in a former factory, has recently undergone major renovations and an expansion.

Growth moving quickly

South Carroll is not keeping pace, officials said.

"This area is continuing to grow with a lot of senior housing," Bennett said. "These people need a place to go. The area definitely needs a facility of the sort planned."

About 15 Eldersburg residents who regularly attend center events showed up at the brief meeting with commissioners yesterday to underscore the need for improvements.

"We wanted to let you know how much we are behind this," said Peg Sheeler, the center's renovation committee chairwoman.

The exterior, which many compared to a warehouse, does not deter attendance at senior activities, such as line dancing, tai-chi classes and exercise groups, they said. Recreation councils, Scouts and a fledgling church also use the building.

A community center

The building is "heavily used by more than 70 community organizations that echo the same sentiments" for improvements, Flora said. That level of use will help secure a grant, she said.

"It has good use by both older adults and the community and that is what we want," said Flora. "That is something the state looks at."

The commissioners, who will review the final application before its June 30 deadline for submission to the state Department of Aging, expressed concerns about a cash match.

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said she did not favor the "all or nothing" component. She asked if labor and materials could be substituted for money.

"It has to be an actual cash match," said Flora, who added that the county's share of the funding will be included in the 2002 capital improvements plan.

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