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Seniors consider options for new center

April 12, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN -- The lease on the building temporarily housing Washington County's fledgling senior center expires in June, and, although seniors might continue to use the site beyond that point, they are waiting to find out where the center will move after that.

The senior center is expected to remain at Girls Inc., at 626 Washington Ave. in Hagerstown, throughout the summer, with shortened hours, said Washington County Commission on Aging Executive Director Susan MacDonald. She said the hope is that a permanent center will be open by fall.

A senior task force focused on the Aspiring to Serve building at 140 W. Franklin St. in Hagerstown for the center site because of its prime downtown location, low cost, and convenience to the agency's existing offices and other social services, MacDonald told the Washington County Commissioners recently.

Building owner Aspiring to Serve Inc., a ministry of Christ Reformed United Church of Christ, offered the first two years rent-free and after that would charge about $73,000 per year, including parking and utilities, MacDonald told the commissioners. There also would be an upfront cost of about $670,000 for renovations, she said.

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Some of the commissioners registered objections to that site.

Some seniors also have been less than enthusiastic about the Aspiring to Serve location.

Seniors expressed concern that the center would not be on the first floor, and would not be on only one floor. Instead, the plan was for the center to be on the fifth floor, with some activities on the second floor.

They also said they did not think the site had enough parking, and safety was mentioned.

MacDonald said that to address seniors' concerns and get their input, she held a meeting on March 25. The importance of a senior center was evident when 110 people showed up for the meeting and "lined the walls of Girls Inc.," she said.

MacDonald said she was surprised by the response of those who have been taking advantage of the Senior Center, which opened at the Girls Inc. site in September 2008.

Looking for a home



While acknowledging that the Aspiring to Serve building, which houses REACH on the third floor and the Commission on Aging on the fourth floor, wasn't the perfect solution, MacDonald said she explained to the seniors at the meeting why it was being considered.

It was, she said, the best and most cost-effective option available.

She said a senior task force had scouted a number of sites over several years, only to find them either economically or structurally unacceptable.

She also tried to address some of the concerns.

She said the use of Christ's Reformed Church's parking lot could help ease the parking situation. A volunteer could drive a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the front door of the Aspiring to Serve building for those who needed it.

And for those worried about center activities being on different floors, neither on the ground flood, she noted that the building has an elevator that would make the center accessible.

MacDonald said the result was a "very positive meeting with high energy." In the end, the seniors voted on the proposed site, favoring the Aspiring to Serve location 3 to 1, she said.

"The meeting was very helpful in giving us a sense that this was an option people would be pleased by," MacDonald said. "The recurrent theme was the seniors want a space of their own."

'Not-so-good options'



One senior said she voted in favor of the Aspiring to Service site at the meeting despite reservations about accessibility and parking.

Judith Ferro, of Smithsburg, said last week that given a choice between staying at Girls Inc. or moving to Aspiring to Serve, the move was the better option. She said her main motivation for voting as she did stemmed from a desire for seniors to have a place of their own.

"It was the best of two not-so-good choices," she said. "Parking and the elevator, those are major issues for a lot of people."

Ferro praised employees at Girls Inc. for sharing their space, but said it's not an ideal situation because of having to work around the school schedule.

She encouraged seniors to contact the Washington County Commissioners, either by phone, e-mail or letter, to share their thoughts.

"They're so responsive and they do listen," Ferro said.

Roseann Fisher, of Hagerstown, did not want to disclose how she voted at the meeting, but said it was her "desire to see the senior site be on one level with a nice, accessible parking lot."

Betty Kunkle, who lives just over the Frederick County line but has a Smithsburg address, attends activities with her husband, Jim, at both the Frederick County and Washington County senior centers.

Betty Kunkle was not at the March 25 meeting, but said she recently went to the Aspiring to Serve building for the first time and didn't find the five-story building to be "very senior friendly."

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