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County considers new site for senior center

March 15, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- The Washington County Commission on Aging is pushing to establish a permanent senior center in a West Franklin Street building, but the Washington County Commissioners say they aren't sold on the location yet.

The five-story Aspiring to Serve building, at 140 W. Franklin St. in downtown Hagerstown, currently houses several nonprofits, including REACH on the third floor and the Commission on Aging offices on the fourth floor.

By leasing vacant space on the fifth floor and working out space-sharing agreements on other floors, the commission would have a total of about 14,500 square feet to use for a senior center, said Commission on Aging Executive Director Susan J. MacDonald.

The new location would replace the temporary senior center that has operated since September in the Girls Inc. building at 626 Washington Ave. in Hagerstown, she said.

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A senior task force picked the Aspiring to Serve site because of its prime downtown location, low cost, and convenience to the agency's existing offices and other social services, MacDonald said.

The church ministry that owns the building has offered the first two years rent-free and after that would charge about $73,000 per year, including parking and utilities, MacDonald said. There would also be an up-front cost of about $670,000 for renovations, she said.

Several of the Washington County Commissioners said they weren't convinced the site was worth that much of an investment.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said to justify spending more than $600,000 to renovate a rented space, the senior center would have to stay there for at least 10 or 15 years.

Kercheval said the site has several drawbacks, including limited parking and the use of upper floors, as opposed to the ground floor.

"It's not an optimum spot for me," he said.

Kercheval suggested the commission survey area seniors to find out what they think of the Aspiring to Serve building as a permanent location.

Commissioner William J. Wivell said he would prefer to put a senior center at Hagerstown Community College, where seniors could take advantage of the walking trails and gymnasium, and mingle with a younger crowd.

MacDonald said the commission ruled out HCC because an expansion of its Athletic, Recreation and Community Center isn't scheduled until 2019. Seniors who have been using the center in the Girls Inc. building want a permanent location much sooner than that, MacDonald said.

The main problem with the Girls Inc. space is that it is only available for seniors when school is in session, MacDonald said. The youth organization has priority use of the space in the evenings, on weekends and holidays, and during the summer.

"As cooperative and as welcoming as Girls Inc. has been, it is their space, and I think our seniors deserve a space of their own," MacDonald said.

About 300 seniors are registered to use the current center, and it has had about 1,900 visits since it opened, she said.

MacDonald's vision for the Aspiring to Serve building includes a gym, classrooms, computer labs, restrooms, a lounge, a cafe and a kitchen on the fifth floor, which has about 7,600 square feet of space.

In addition, the seniors could use a social hall and kitchen on the second floor except on weekends, when they are sometimes used by the neighboring Christ Reformed United Church of Christ, MacDonald said.

The center would host line-dancing and ballroom-dancing classes, fitness classes, health education and screenings, support groups, crafts and more. It would also be available for club meetings and open as a social gathering spot.

All of the spaces would be accessible by elevator, MacDonald said.

The building is owned by Aspiring to Serve Inc., a ministry of Christ Reformed United Church of Christ. In addition to REACH and the Commission on Aging offices, it also houses Potomac Case Management Services and the Washington County Health Department's Women, Infants and Children program.

The building is across West Franklin Street from the site planned for the county's new transit system transfer center.

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