THINK OF THE little white one-story Community Center at the corner of Old B&A Boulevard and Cypress Creek Road as the "heart" of Old Severna Park. You'll be in good company.
Because of its popularity and requests from the public to add more programs, the Community Center is in the midst of a campaign to raise $3.5 million to renovate and enlarge the existing facility and to add a gymnasium and a heated pool to be used for physical therapy.
The goal is to transform the building into the undisputed "center of town" for Severna Park and, as the center would have it, the entire county.
Centrally located and just a block from Ritchie Highway, the Community Center is already considered the center of town by many residents. An estimated 15,000 people from as far away as Annapolis and Brooklyn Park use the facility and its indoor pool every year, says center director Patt Haun.
Along with summer camps and the after-school program for middle-schoolers, the center allows people of all ages to pursue recreational activities like swimming, dancing, self-improvement and physical fitness, and to rent meeting space.
The center is one of the few large recreation facilities in the area.
The notion to improve the facility probably began more than three years ago, Haun says. One of the biggest obstacles to acquiring building permits was removed last month, when the county approved all of the center's requests for zoning variances. Built before the advent of county building codes, the center was breaking one rule.
"You can't build in the front yard of a church," Haun says. But because the building was already there, that variance was approved along with the others.
Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church owns the property, but the nonprofit center's lease allows it to expand.
Operating as a non-membership, pay-as-you-go facility - with, Haun says, reasonable prices - has added to the center's success. The swimming pool is a key attraction, offering some of the most popular programs, from introduction to swimming for babies to competitive swimming for youngsters and adults.
"This is the closest indoor facility during the winter for swimming," Haun says. "We're providing services that no one else provides yet."
Because the Wellspring program - which allows patients who are recovering from chronic illnesses or surgery to exercise underwater - is one of the center's most popular, participants are looking forward to a new therapy pool.
"It's a long way to have to travel to inner-city Baltimore for aquatic therapy," she says.
Next door to the Community Center is Holy Grounds Youth Center, which was built as the first Catholic church in Severna Park. Part of the Community Center was the church rectory.
When the Severna Park YMCA moved into the building, it added an outdoor swimming pool, which was covered each winter with a giant canvas bubble before it was permanently enclosed.
About seven years ago, the YMCA declared bankruptcy and vacated the building. Thanks to the financial support of the owners of the property, Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, the Community Center was opened. Since then, the mission of the church has been to maintain the center as a corporation separate from the church, and to make sure that the property remains a community center, Haun says.
Haun says the campaign should help the community feel "vested" in the center, adding, "We want people to say, `Hey, I have to make this happen.'"
She said the county has provided $150,000 in grants and the state has approved up to $500,000 in matching funds to the center's fund-raising efforts.
A request for help was recently mailed to households throughout the central part of the county. All donations go directly to the center, Haun says.
For more information, call the Community Center at 410-647-5843.