On the occasion of her 65th birthday yesterday, Carroll Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge delivered good news to patrons of the North Carroll Senior Center.
Over lunch at the center, Gouge announced the county had just signed a lease for a much larger space across the street. For $17,000 a month, the county will rent the largest building in North Carroll Shopping Center, a space vacated several years ago by Ames Department Stores.
"It is not usually feasible for us to rent, but this situation is very attractive," said Ralph Green, director of the county's Department of General Services. "Rents typically go for $15 a square foot. We are getting this space for $4.75 a square foot, and it is in an area the seniors are already used to."
Gouge's audience crowded into the dining room during the center's popular country music day.
"We were all happy, excited and surprised," said Renee Deiaco, center manager. "Many seniors didn't think this would happen in their lifetimes. Now they will have more room, better parking and a stoplight."
The best news is that the new center will be ready within a year.
"We are totally amazed that this will happen so soon," Deiaco said.
The center -- the smallest of Carroll's five seniors centers -- has outgrown its 5,000- square-foot space in the basement of the North Carroll library branch, but a new building was not planned for at least five years. In the meantime, the county had expected to expand the current space to accommodate the nearly 2,000 seniors who use the facility each month with a $175,000 state grant that will now be returned.
"These seniors have the smallest space," Gouge said. "Before they can have a dance or exercise class, they have to clear the tables and chairs out of the dining room and that usually is exercise enough for them."
Gouge had long eyed the 43,000-square-foot empty store on Route 30 as a possible location for the center. She persuaded her staff to develop cost estimates and approach the landlord, HM Mall Associates of Baltimore.
The county will work with the owner on renovations and will contribute $40,000 to roof repairs, which, Green said, will pay for themselves in energy savings within a few years.
The senior center will use about 25,000 square feet in the building. The county can allot the remaining space to other agencies. The county will not pay rent until the renovations are complete, in about nine months.
The commissioners also plan to expand the Westminster Senior Center and to build a new South Carroll Center. The county's population of residents age 60 and older grew more than 27 percent in the 1990s to nearly 22,000, according to the 2000 census. Carroll's population is rapidly approaching 170,000.