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Commission on Aging works for senior center in Washington Co.

June 21, 2007|by JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Ed Branthaver has been pushing for a senior center in Washington County since before he was a senior himself.

Twenty-five years ago, when Branthaver was 44, he visited several senior centers in other counties while serving on the board of the Washington County Commission on Aging.

"We were just trying to see what other counties were doing for their seniors, and gathering ideas to bring back here," Branthaver said.

Now, Branthaver is 69, and Washington County still doesn't have a center for seniors to use during the day.

"It's unbelievable. We need to do better for our elderly," Branthaver said.

Washington County is the only county in Maryland without a multi-purpose senior center, according to Branthaver and others at the Commission on Aging.

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Centers in other counties offer a variety of options for the elderly, including meals, classes, activities and fitness programs. Most are used during the day by seniors and are open to other groups in the evening.

"They are hubs of socialization," said Susan MacDonald, executive director of the Commission on Aging, which is studying options for a senior center in Hagerstown.

MacDonald said the county has several "senior sites," which offer a meal and some kind of activity every day but do not offer the range of options that a multi-use senior center would.

"This center is something our seniors are starting to expect," MacDonald said.

The Commission on Aging has looked at several possible locations for a senior center.

MacDonald said they favor the old Antietam Paper building on Antietam Street because it is close to the city's senior housing and has a large parking lot and working elevator. MacDonald said the Commission on Aging has spoken to the owners of the building and that the owners are open to discussing the project.

MacDonald and Commission on Aging board member Linn Hendershot made a presentation Tuesday to the Washington County Commissioners asking for support for the project. They plan to make a formal budgetary request for the project soon for the fiscal year 2009 budget.

MacDonald said financial support from the commissioners would ease the process of securing additional funding from the state, nonprofits and private donors for what she said will be a multi-million dollar project.

The Commission on Aging has studied other counties' centers to develop a plan and has used Carroll County as a model. A recently completed 25,000-square-foot senior center in Carroll County cost about $3 million to open, said Rick Steinburg, bureau chief for the Carroll County Bureau of Aging. Steinburg said the county spends about $225,000 per year to operate the center. He said about 10 percent of Carroll County's 25,000 seniors use the county's five centers.

Washington County has about 27,000 residents ages 60 and older, MacDonald said. That number is expected to increase by 40 percent in the next 13 years, according to a 2005 U.S. Census report.

"We are planning for a demographic bulge," said MacDonald, who noted that the combination of an aging baby boomer population and an influx of seniors from counties to the east is going to stress the county's senior services in the near future.

MacDonald said the Commission on Aging is developing a comprehensive plan to address elderly issues in the county and that senior centers are a part of that plan, which should be finished in the fall.

"A lot of people become isolated as they get older. For some, there is not much more than television and chores in their lives. We need to address this, especially as the elderly population increases," MacDonald said.

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