CALL IT A "town center" for an unincorporated entity, a focal point diverse enough to meet the needs of all ages, a single facility regarded as the "heart of the community" - and what many believe Severna Park needs the most.
Many months of work by individuals committed to bringing to Severna Park one element missing from an otherwise idyllic community appears to be on the brink of success.
The Community Center (until a week ago named the Community Center at Woods) is offering its site at the corner of Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard and Cypress Creek Road as a natural location for a proposed community centerpiece.
Fund raising is under way, and if, as promoters hope, residents join in support of the project, the old community center on the property of Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church will be torn down, except for the swimming pool and Holy Grounds youth center, to make way for a new facility.
To inform the business community about the project, a luncheon was held Friday at Chartwell Country Club with state Sen. Robert R. Neall as guest speaker. The District 33 Democrat talked about his bill passed by the General Assembly last year that would provide up to $500,000 for development of a community center in Severna Park.
"It's as rare as hen's teeth," Neall says, "to pass a bill with the full request."
The state money is contingent on matching funds being raised.
At the luncheon, Neall joked with old friends Andy Borland, former athletic director at Severna Park High School, and Severna Park businessman Art Ebersberger, recalling that these "geriatric Jaycees" have talked about a community center for as long as 30 years.
Borland heads the capital drive for the new center. With the state funds, plus the county's contribution of $150,000 and other donations, close to $1 million of the $3.5 million cost of the project is assured.
Supporters of the plan, including the Community Center's executive director Patt Haun and the youth center director, Sherry Ross, say the new and improved center could be a reality in little more than two years.
Groundbreaking is anticipated next spring, with construction and remodeling expected to take 15 to 16 months, says Carl Gutschick, chairman of the Community Center board of directors - a body of church members and area residents.
"This is not Wood's community center," Gutschick said, referring to the church. "The property is leased to the center."
Hosts for Friday's luncheon were Ebersberger and Christopher R. McCleary, chairman of Annapolis-based USinternetworking. "We're helping to make this a reality," says Ebersberger. "It's a great concept, something the community needs."
Six years ago, when the Severna Park YMCA was about to go into bankruptcy, Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church threw the facility a financial life preserver. The financial aid and improvement in administration enabled the building to be painted and polished, the pool dressing rooms to be upgraded.
Under the leadership of the center's board and its first executive director, Barbara Birkenheuer, employees were paid on time and programs expanded.
But there was still a lot to be desired. Stephen T. Terhune, the architect hired to create the new center, says he had two primary goals for the building's concept: first, to meet the requirements of its users, and second, to create a symbolic center for the community.
The result would be a pleasing blend of contemporary and traditional architecture designed to provide large activity spaces without overwhelming the primarily residential nature of the neighborhood.
The building would combine sections of one and two levels. To maintain an even roofline, its gymnasium would be "depressed" several feet into the ground so that its 24-foot-high ceiling would not appear as a "warehouse" from the outside, Terhune says.
New construction would include a 6,125-square-foot, regulation-size gymnasium, a main floor of 7,763 square feet, a lower level of 7,540 square feet, and a 4,452-square-foot "therapy pool" with its own entry and lockers.
In order to keep the old center open during construction, "the new two-story part will be built into the parking lot beside the old building," says Terhune. "Once it is ready to be occupied, we will tear down the old center."
The layout of the new center would move it closer to Holy Grounds and move the parking area - which Terhune calls a "visual barrier" - to the rear of the youth center. A new porch/bandstand was added to the youth center this spring, and new shingles would be installed as part of the community center project.
Luncheon guests examined architectural drawings of the new center showing views from Cypress Creek Road, Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard, Summit Road (between Woods church and the center), and from Holy Grounds.
"This is the beginning of something very, very big," says County Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican. "This will be the focal point for Severna Park, where you can get together with people outside your own community.
"The center will service Severna Park and all parts of Anne Arundel County," Vitale said. "There will be nothing you can't do at the community center, and that's everyone from 5-year-olds to 65-year-olds."