Senior center ground broken

$6.8 million project in Fallston named after council member

November 16, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

With its elderly population growing more quickly than any other segment, Harford County will build a sixth senior center to serve its fast-developing western area.

And no official could be more thrilled than Veronica "Roni" Chenowith, Harford's senior county council member, who learned at the groundbreaking Thursday that the $6.8 million center will be named in her honor.

Although battling illness, Chenowith refused to miss the official start to a 30,000-square-foot project, which the Department of Parks and Recreation is sharing with Community Services, Office on Aging.

"I have been working on this for 12 years and would not miss it for the world," she said. "It has been a long journey into reality."

Despite heavy rain and cold, Chenowith stood with a crowd of officials under a gazebo and pronounced the day beautiful. Wearing a builder's hard hat, she dug the ceremonial gold shovel into a symbolic mound of dirt. She overlooked fields where she and her husband, Joe, coached for decades and said she "was flooded with wonderful memories."

A recreation council that started with three football teams and about 90 young players now includes thousands playing sports year round.

Joe Chenowith is still vice president of the Fallston Recreation Council, where both he and his wife have each volunteered for more than 35 years. They now see children they once coached volunteering with another generation and many still call Roni Chenowith "Mom."

"For her dedication to the Fallston Recreation Council and for being the ambassador for this area for so long, we are naming this center after Roni," said county Executive David Craig.

The building, which is expected to open in the spring of 2010, will be a near replica of the McFaul and Havre de Grace activity centers, both heavily used by seniors and youth.

"This will be a building for all populations," said Joseph Pfaff, county director of recreation and parks. "We are getting a big bang for our dollars."

Census data show that Harford seniors will soon outnumber the students in its schools.

"We have no senior center in the part of our world, where there is a rapidly growing senior population in a rapidly growing area," said Karen Winkowski, administrator for the Office on Aging.

More than 800 Fallston residents, ages 65 and older, have participated in senior programs at other centers, she said. Those residents typically have their own transportation, while many others do not.

A center nearer home could potentially provide programs and services for as many as 20,000 seniors, an estimate based on 2000 census data, she said.

"We know there are many seniors in this area who are without transportation," Winkowski said. "We can provide a centralized location in this community that will be closer to their homes. It will open the door for many others."

Harford Transit is expected to provide bus service to the center.

"The idea is to meet people where their needs are and provide a wide variety of services," she said. "We are trying to make our centers as appealing as we can. They are active, fun places with a lot of resources."

The project came in at $2 million under its projected cost. Construction of the building and additional parking will mean the loss of two baseball diamonds at the 75-acre Fallston recreation complex, but the county will add fields nearby at its Benson Center.

The Chenowith Activity Center will house the largest gym in the county, Pfaff said. The gym can be divided, so that a basketball game, with bleachers for spectators, can go on simultaneously with an exercise group. The center will also house meeting areas, offices, classrooms and a dining room, all in a campus-like setting.

Participants can take a course in computers or fine arts, work out in the fitness center and have lunch with friends. Youth and adults can enjoy after-school and evening activities.

"This center is an excellent example of how to make the most of scarce resources of land and money and build one facility to fit two different needs," Craig said. "We know from the other centers that putting seniors and teens in the same building works."

Roni Chenowith said she envisions a learning atmosphere where "kids 6 to 60 and beyond can share friendships and ideas and create a greater sense of community."

And, she added, she plans to be among them.

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