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Commissioners vote to build senior center at HCC

June 16, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- The Washington County Commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to build a senior center on the campus of Hagerstown Community College with the help of federal grant money.

The vote brought an end to months of debate about an appropriate site for a permanent senior center, during which the commissioners considered, but rejected, several other prospective sites.

The commissioners voted to move forward with a site on the HCC campus recommended by the college's board of trustees, described as being away from the current academic buildings and near a proposed second entrance to the college.

HCC spokeswoman Elizabeth K. Stull said by phone after the meeting that the proposed site is in a wooded area between the Alumni Amphitheater and the Athletic, Recreation and Community Center.

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Commissioner James F. Kercheval voted against proceeding with that site, saying he wasn't against putting a senior center on the HCC campus, but he didn't think the commissioners devoted enough time to studying the site and he wasn't sold on the particular part of the campus proposed.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said the county will be able to apply a $672,000 Community Development Block Grant toward the design of the building.

Murray said the county could build a 15,000-square-foot senior center for about $3 million, including the grant funding. It could open in about two years, he said.

Commissioner William J. Wivell long advocated for putting the senior center on the HCC campus, but the commissioners began considering the idea more seriously after learning in mid-May that they could use the grant funding for a senior center if the county built one instead of using an existing building.

The commissioners increased the budget for the senior center in the county's Capital Improvement Plan to $3 million at their May 19 meeting, the same day they approved the county budget.

"I'm glad to see that common sense has prevailed," Wivell said Tuesday.

He said the HCC site would allow seniors to benefit from the campus' walking trails and exercise facilities, and provide opportunities to mix the county's "older, wiser generation" with a younger crowd. In contrast, Wivell said some of the previously proposed sites seemed like "opportunities for someone to play bingo."

The county previously considered putting the senior center in the Aspiring to Serve Building at 130 W. Franklin Street and in the former Richardson's restaurant building at 710 Dual Highway.

Another possibility, the vacant U.S. Army Reserve building on Willard Street, did not look promising because the county would have to wait for the building to be declared surplus and officials were having trouble getting answers about how long that would take, Murray said.

Commissioner Terry Baker said the HCC site was the best option presented. Baker, now 53, said when he gets older, he would want to go to a senior center where he could jog, walk and volunteer.

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire at first expressed reservations about the HCC site. He said he thought it was too far from the majority of the county's senior population and he would have liked an opportunity to hear feedback from seniors about it.

Susan J. MacDonald, executive director of the Washington County Commission on Aging, said the priorities seniors have expressed have been that they want a safe location, one level, ample parking, a space that is not shared with other groups and a short time frame for opening.

She said she has been told that putting a senior center on a community college campus was a "visionary" way of addressing the needs of the active and diverse baby boomer generation.

MacDonald said the Robinwood Drive area was a convenient location for a senior center because of its proximity to Robinwood Medical Center and, soon, the new hospital. She said transportation could be provided to the center from the senior housing buildings downtown.

Murray said the county still needs to meet with HCC's Board of Trustees to work out agreements on issues such as security, snow removal and what would happen to the building if the county eventually moved the senior center somewhere else.

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