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New community center celebrates grand opening

March 27, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - It hasn't taken long for the Elgin Station Community Center to begin filling up.

Construction began in January 2003 on the two-story community center at the intersection of Elgin and Burhans boulevards. The $4.8 million building was completed in January, Hagerstown Housing Authority Executive Director Ted Shankle said.

Officials said the building - which was built from scratch, but resembles an old train station from the exterior - will house dozens of community programs geared toward both children and adults.

The center is run by the Hagerstown Housing Authority. At its official grand opening Friday, about 250 officials and residents crowded into the gleaming gymnasium that is part of the center.

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Programs currently housed at the center either are full or quickly filling up, program directors said Friday.

Washington County Head Start child development manager Emily Hobby usually works at the Martin Luther King Center on West North Avenue. But she supervises Head Start teachers at Elgin Station, and on Friday, she gave a tour of the early child development center.

Hobby said the 48 slots in the Elgin program, which are available to children from infancy up to age 5, all are taken. The program expenses, which are paid by the federal government, will be between $600,000 and $650,000 this year, Head Start Executive Director Paul Pittman Jr. said.

Services there are free, but parents must qualify for the programs. Even so, there's a large demand for the program, Hobby said.

"There's just not enough slots for the numbers of babies in the county that need child care," Hobby said. "We're just flooded with applications."

Jason Johnson runs the Boys and Girls Club at Elgin Station. He said there are about 80 children signed up for his program, which provides after-school education, sports and character training.

That number, however, is growing daily, Johnson said. And he said the nearby Gateway Crossing homes that are opening up only will increase his numbers.

The children participating in his program said they are responding well to the new center, Johnson said.

"The kids are impressed," Johnson said. "They love it. They especially love the gym. ... It's safe."

Shankle said the Washington County Health Department will open a family clinic within the next few weeks in the building. The clinic will have three exam rooms, and Shankle said it will serve as a satellite office for the Health Department.

The building also has conference rooms and an 18-machine computer lab, which is available to people who are part of programs at the center, including Head Start, the Boys and Girls Club and Hagerstown Community College classes that are planned at the center, Shankle said.

The center is part of the overarching Gateway Crossing housing project, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development HOPE VI program, other government sources and income tax credits, Shankle said.

So far, 83 homes have opened in Gateway Crossing. There are a total of 290 rental homes planned, plus 64 homes that will be owner-occupied, Shankle said. The project costs $63 million, but there will be an estimated $10 million in donated services from local organizations by the end of the project.

Johnson, the Boys and Girls Club unit director, said he's happy to be at Elgin Station.

"It's gonna be a lovely thing to be out here and watch it grow and know that I was here from the start," Johnson said.

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