Recreation for all generations

Youths and seniors share space at new center in Harford

March 27, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,sun reporter

Senior citizens take an art class. Teenagers play basketball across the hall, in one of Harford County's largest gyms. And a group of parents meets in a nearby community room for a book club or a discussion on a pressing neighborhood issue.

That is a scenario envisioned yesterday by officials at the dedication of the $6.4 million Havre de Grace Activity Center, lauded as a facility that will allow generations to mingle, socialize and work together seven days a week.

"We have figured out how to put kids and seniors together and make it work," said Mary F. Chance, director of Harford County's community services. "This is the way public buildings are supposed to be used."

The one-story brick building, on Lewis Lane off U.S. 40, will give senior groups a place to gather, youngsters a safe after-school place to study and socialize, and others in the community a recreation center with classes that include aerobics and yoga.

"It is needed everywhere at every age level," said Karen Green, recreation specialist and building manager. "This is a growing community that has few places for people to congregate."

At a dedication ceremony attended by the governor and lieutenant governor, the county executive and the mayor, as well as a crowd of about 500, the city highlighted its intergenerational undertaking, built with public money and more than $600,000 in private donations.

"I will call this place home," said Elsie Collison, 87. "This is going to work, and we are all going to make it work."

The center is Harford's second such endeavor. The facility is patterned after the McFaul Center, a slightly smaller building that opened five years ago in Bel Air.

Within its 30,000 square feet, the center houses a gym, a dance room, a billiard parlor, classrooms, art studios, a library, several lounges, a study hall, a dining hall and a computer lab.

Senior citizens, who have met at the American Legion, churches or at any location they could find, will share the facility with the Havre de Grace Boys and Girls Club, which has been gathering next door at Havre de Grace Middle School.

"This building will ... give kids an understanding of what keeps older people young, and the seniors will find out [that] not all youth are hooligans," said Karen Brown, education coordinator at the Edgewood Boys and Girls Club. "It will be a great learning experience on both ends."

Across Maryland, more than 100 centers are dedicated solely to senior citizens, but Harford may be altering the pattern with its intergenerational centers, state officials said. The use of public money can be maximized with the multiuse approach, in addition to creating an environment aimed at bringing generations together.

"Local governments are telling us what they need, and it seems community centers are becoming a trend," said Wiley Finch, senior center program manager with the Maryland Department of Aging.

Yesterday's ceremony provided a glimpse of the center's intended purpose: The Havre de Grace High School Jazz Band played a number reminiscent of the big-band era while senior citizens in the audience tapped their feet to the beat.

"That music brings back memories," said Iva Strong, 77.

Harford County appears not to be done with the trend-setting. County Executive David R. Craig said he will ask for funds this week for a similar center in Fallston and expects to plan for another in Jarrettsville.

In the meantime, the Havre de Grace center is not quite finished. A pool for youth relays and a therapeutic spa for senior citizens and disabled swimmers is in the works.

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