Moving toward community center

Severn facility would offer free health clinic, activities for children

March 18, 2007|By Nina Sears | Nina Sears,Staff Writer

After more than 20 years of community pleas, Anne Arundel County is taking the first steps toward opening a community and health center on the grounds of Van Bokkelen Elementary School.

The nonprofit Arundel Community Development Services Inc. will conduct a $90,000 study of the nearly 50-acre property in Severn to assess the estate, zoning and land issues, and the needs of the community.

The study, funded by a state Community Legacy matching grant, was approved by the Board of Education this month. Kathleen Koch, executive director of Arundel Community Development Services, said it could take a year to complete.

The proposed 204,000-square-foot facility would take up about 5 acres and feature a 20,000-square-foot community center with classrooms, a basketball court, a baseball field and a 5,000-square-foot free health clinic. The center may also partner with the school board to provide tutoring and other academic opportunities for the children the center will serve.

"The center will be a direct benefit in terms of increasing opportunities for these kids to be academic leaders," said school board Vice President Eugene Peterson. "Right now, the kids have no recreational outlet."

Glenda Gathers, a Stillmeadows resident who has lobbied for the center since the 1980s, said community groups have written letters to "everyone" asking for support of the project.

"We've lost a lot of kids from the ills of the street," Gathers said. "They start straying; there was nothing for them to do, so they start feeling like no one cares."

According to Arundel Community Development Services, the median age of Severn residents is 32.8, compared with 36 in the county as a whole. About 10 percent of Severn families with children under 18 live in poverty, compared with nearly 7 percent of families in the rest of Anne Arundel County.

The community center would serve the Pioneer Drive, Stillmeadows and Spring Meadows communities, which are close to Van Bokkelen. More than a quarter of the residents in the Pioneer Drive area live below the poverty line. It also has higher rates of teen pregnancy and lower rates of using prenatal care than the rest of the county.

Finding money for the community center has been its biggest hurdle.

"We have champagne tastes on a beer budget," Peterson said.

County Councilman Jamie Benoit said the time and environment are right for the next phases of establishing the center. Under the military base realignment and consolidation, nearby Fort Meade is scheduled to grow, opening up job opportunities for the community's young adults. Benoit, of Piney Orchard, said the center would offer job training and work force development programs.

"When you put all that together, things begin to happen," Benoit said.

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