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Seniors weigh in on new center site

June 21, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS and DAVE McMILLION

HAGERSTOWN -- The Washington County Commissioners' decision last week to move forward with the Hagerstown Community College campus as the site for a senior center has drawn mixed reviews from the center's prospective users.

The prospect of a custom-designed building on a campus that already hosts many community activities and events appealed strongly to many seniors, but some worried the amount of traffic on Edgewood and Robinwood drives would make getting to the center inconvenient.

"The traffic, it's just going to be a nightmare," said Virginia Bentz, 77, of Hagerstown.

Bentz said Robinwood Drive already is congested, and she expects the opening of the new regional medical center to make the situation even worse.

Wayne Taylor, 76, president of the local council of Seniors and Law Enforcement Together, said he didn't think traffic would be a problem as long as the county provided adequate bus service to the center.

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"I think there's going to be traffic congestion pretty much everywhere you go," he said.

Taylor, who organizes military concerts at HCC's alumni amphitheater each summer, said the campus was an ideal setting for a senior center.

"The college is really the public's; it's a community college, so I think it's a natural (fit)," he said.

Another plus is the county won't have to worry about having the rent raised or being kicked out, as it might have if it had rented space for the senior center, Taylor said.

The county previously considered putting the senior center in the Aspiring to Serve Building at 130 W. Franklin St. and in the former Richardson's restaurant building at 710 Dual Highway, both of which would have been rented spaces.

The commissioners decided to build the center on the HCC campus after learning they could use a $672,000 Community Development Block Grant if the county built a center instead of using an existing building. Including the grant funding, the project is budgeted for $3 million, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

Judith Ferro, 66, of Smithsburg, said building a center on the HCC campus was "a visionary idea."

"It's a long-term view," she said. "It's not a quick fix."

Ferro said she liked the location, the availability of parking, the campus's safety, the proximity of other services and the immersion in a community of people of all ages.

Murray said the center will have its own parking lot, which will be accessible from HCC's Scholar Drive.

Ferro, who uses the temporary senior center at the Girls Inc. building in Hagerstown about three times a week, said going to HCC will be much more convenient than driving downtown.

Others noted while the location might be convenient for east Hagerstown and Smithsburg residents, it moves the center farther from those who live to the west.

"I just think it's very inaccessible and too far to the east of the county, because seniors over in this section of the county are not going to be driving 16 miles one-way," said Blanton Croft, 75, who lives off Cearfoss Pike.

Croft also said the proposed location, to the rear of the campus between the Alumni Amphitheater and the Athletic, Recreation and Community Center, did not provide enough visibility. The Richardson's site, with its prominent Dual Highway location, would have been easier for seniors to find, he said.

Croft said the commissioners should have waited to hear input from seniors before voting on the HCC site.

Others said they liked the location, but did not like the prospect of waiting two years or more for the center to be built.

Carolyn Blitz, 67, said she was looking forward to the center opening because she lives off Edgewood Drive and already goes to HCC for her son's sporting events.

"Knowing that it's going to come, I think it will be worth waiting for," she said.

At this point, there is no intent to close the current senior center at Girls Inc. until the new one opens, Murray said. At the least, the current center will remain open for the next fiscal year, from July 1 of this year through June 30, 2010, he said.

Shirley Wright, who attends strength training and yoga classes at the current center, said she doesn't mind waiting for the new center to open.

"As long as we have access, as long as we have a place to have (classes), that's fine," she said.

Wright said she would use the senior center at HCC even though Robinwood Drive is not necessarily an easy drive from her home near Longmeadow Shopping Center.

"I think some other places would probably have been more convenient, but you can't have everything, I guess," she said.

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