Breaking ground on gathering place

$1.2 million community center planned in Westminster will cater to all ages


A chilly drizzle forced the audience to huddle under umbrellas, but the weather could not dampen enthusiasm for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Union Street Community Center.

Before turning gilded shovels into the earth Friday at a vacant lot on Westminster's west side, church leaders and area officials praised the $1.2 million project that will offer children a place to study and play, and the extended community, particularly seniors, an opportunity to socialize.

"The weather does not matter," said Debra Sims, president of the Westminster Community of Shalom, a nonprofit, faith-based organization that is building the center. "This is a new beginning that will bring a wonderful addition to this neighborhood ... and create a place for its children."

The city, county and state, Shalom and the congregation of Union Street United Methodist Church have partnered on the project that has been several years in the planning. The church provided the land, and the nonprofit group has raised $775,000, which includes a $450,000 state grant.

Members of the county legislative delegation, several of whom were in the audience, have pledged their support in securing a state loan that would cover the remaining costs.

Plans call for a 6,800-square- foot building, with rooms for tutoring and crafts, a computer lab and several recreation areas. Similar in architecture to surrounding homes, the center will serve as an anchor for at least 300 children, ages 6 through 18, who live in the area bordered by West Main Street, Union Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. A door-to-door survey of the neighborhood showed overwhelming need for the center, organizers said.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said she hoped the project would inspire other churches to emulate the effort.

"We spend a tremendous amount of taxpayer money for children's activities, a lot of which are sports," Gouge said. "This center will place youth in a community setting so they are not out on the streets. It will also give seniors a place to learn and give to each other."

Westminster Mayor Thomas K. Ferguson, chairman of the Shalom group's capital campaign, called for continued support and promised the crowd of about 100 a sunnier day for the ribbon-cutting in about nine months.

"This project is a genuine partnership of church, city and state," Ferguson said. "It would not be happening today without community support."

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