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Seniors ask tough questions about proposed center

September 14, 2009|By JANET HEIM

FUNKSTOWN -- Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr met Monday with senior citizens who wanted to discuss a plan to build a permanent Washington County Senior Center on the grounds of Hagerstown Community College.

The seniors expressed concern about a number of issues, including the time it would take to build a center at HCC.

"We're not getting any younger. We might not live to see it," said Ed Branthaver of Williamsport, chairman of the advisory council for the Washington County Commission on Aging.

Barr told about 18 members of the Funkstown Senior Citizens group meeting at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Funkstown that there is a chance a center could open in about a year.

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Barr said he thinks site development for the center might begin in the spring of 2010. If ground were to be broken in the spring, he said, the center "could happen by next year this time, but don't hold me to it."

Barr said he and County Administrator Gregory B. Murray were to meet with the architect later Monday to review initial plans for the one-story, 15,000- to 20,000-square-foot building.

"We're trying to push a lot of things ... our own local stimulus," said Barr, who said projects like this will provide work for employees and contractors who have been laid off.

Barr said the criteria used to select a site was taken from a survey of seniors about what they wanted in a center, including proximity to services, parking, lighting, accessibility to public transportation, safety and handicap accessibility, among other things.

Washington County's first senior center -- which should not be confused with the senior nutrition sites operating throughout the county -- opened in a temporary location at Girls Inc., at 626 Washington Ave. in Hagerstown, in September 2008. Washington County is the only county in Maryland without a permanent senior center, and some counties have several, Barr said.

In response to a question from Branthaver, Barr said it is his hope this will be the first of several senior centers in the county, mentioning Hancock and South County as possible sites in the future.

Previous locations considered for the first center center included the Aspiring to Serve building at 140 W. Franklin St. in Hagerstown, the former Richardson's Restaurant building on Dual Highway and the U.S. Army Reserve building on Willard Street.

The HCC site under consideration would be away from the current academic buildings, between the Alumni Amphitheater and the Athletic, Recreation and Community Center, near a proposed second entrance to the college.

Barr said the center will cost about $4 million, for which $2.2 million has been budgeted. A $672,000 Community Development Block Grant would be applied to the design of the building.

Another concern of seniors was heavy traffic on Robinwood Drive. Barr said the second entrance to HCC, which most likely would not be completed by the time the center opens, would alleviate some of the traffic concerns.

The road would originate at Professional Court off Eastern Boulevard and would intersect with Yale Drive. A bridge would have to be built over Antietam Creek to allow for construction of the road.

Mary Spidle of Funkstown wondered if a free shuttle from different areas of the county could be offered to seniors. She said she worried that not all seniors would be able to afford the fare each way on the County Commuter.

Barr suggested the issue be raised with the Washington County Commission on Aging. He said there is the possibility of an intercampus vehicle to help seniors get to other parts of the HCC campus from the senior center.

The center would have its own parking lot, be well-lighted and be patrolled by campus security.

Barr told the group the plan for a senior center at HCC has generated interest statewide because Washington County would be the first county in Maryland to build a senior center on a college campus.

"This got a lot of accolades ... throughout the state for the cooperation and collaboration," Barr said.

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