After more than 20 years of deliberations and what some residents describe as an agonizing journey, Howard County officials are in the process of hiring a consultant to create a master design for the North Laurel Park Community Center near the Anne Arundel line.
Gary J. Arthur, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks, said that once the consultant is selected, plans for the $14.7 million project - paid for with a combination of local and state funds - would be made final within a year, and construction should begin next year.
North Laurel residents, who do not have a local center for recreation and community events, have been waiting for such a facility. "They really want this center because people usually have to travel to Prince George's County or Columbia to go to the pool, and the community gathering areas are very limited," said Pamela Peseux of the North Laurel Civic Association, who is a member of the recently created 19-member North Laurel Community Center Planning Committee.
Dennis M. Callahan, Anne Arundel County's Recreation and Parks director, said he sees residents in the far-western areas of Anne Arundel, including Laurel, Maryland City, Russett and Jessup, benefiting from this facility also.
Anne Arundel County doesn't have a multi-use recreation facility, and Callahan called that "our greatest shortcoming."
The county's closest swimming facility, the Arundel Olympic Swim Center, is in Annapolis, although the county is building the nearly 26,000-square-foot North Arundel Aquatic Center in Glen Burnie, which is expected to open in the fall.
"I'm glad to hear it's coming," Callahan said of the Howard County project. "It's great to see a facility like that anywhere."
The North Laurel Community Center Planning Committee is reviewing other community centers to create a "wish list" for the new project.
"So far, we've had six meetings, and we went on a tour of some community centers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties," said Arthur, who heads the planning committee.
The group likes the plans for the Glenwood Community Center in Cooksville and hopes to incorporate some of those details for its center. The Glenwood center, which is under construction, will have activity rooms, classrooms for arts and education, a gymnasium with a three-lane jogging and walking track, basketball and volleyball courts, and a fitness center.
The North Laurel committee might add a playing field and an indoor pool. The center also might have a library and space for county services involving the police, health care and senior citizens.
"We want to make it a multipurpose, one-stop shop that can offer as many government services as possible," Arthur said.
Arthur said he remembers community meetings in the early 1980s, when residents suggested building a community center.
"At that point, there was not a community center there that Recreation and Parks was involved in," he said, "and I knew it would have to come to reality with the community impressing upon Howard County government that they need a facility in their area."
Tom Flynn, former president of the North Laurel Civic Association, said the group started asking county officials to construct a community center in 1989.
"It looks like things are really moving along now," Flynn said. "It was slow and painful to get to this point."
Flynn and other residents said they are aware of the county's efforts in acquiring more than 120 plots for the center. Some properties were bought, and others were acquired through condemnation.
Twenty-nine acres of the 48 acquired near Laurel Woods Elementary School can be used for construction. The rest is trees, wetlands and stream buffers.
Last spring, Howard County Executive James N. Robey and County Councilman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, brought community residents and county officials together to create the planning committee for the community center.
The project is part of an effort to add recreational activities and meeting places in North Laurel, officials say.
Sun reporter Phillip McGowan contributed to this article.