HAGERSTOWN — Nearly 100 senior citizens turned out Wednesday to hear about the future of a proposed senior citizen center that officials hope to build on the Hagerstown Community College Campus within the next few years.
Hilary Lo, community educator for the Washington County Commission on Aging, told the seniors packed into a temporary senior center on Washington Avenue in Hagerstown that the existing site doesn’t have enough room to accommodate more than 9,000 visits from seniors each year.
“We don’t have adequate room to grow,” Lo said, noting Washington County is the only county in Maryland without a permanent senior center.
She said the senior population in Washington County already exceeds the population of school-age children in kindergarten through the 12th grade, and the number of seniors is expected to grow from 30,000 to more than 38,300, or roughly 30 percent, in the next eight years.
Seniors have been sharing the temporary center at 626 Washington Ave. with Girls Inc. since 2008, Lo said. As a result, senior programs have to compete for time and space with programs for children.
Lo told the seniors that the new site at HCC would have adequate parking, a computer lab, a gymnasium, a game room and two activities rooms. The center also would provide immunizations, blood-pressure screenings, bereavement counseling and tax-preparation services.
The construction of a new senior center has been debated for the past several years.
The original blueprint called for the construction of a two-story building, but the $8 million cost far exceeded the $6 million budget, Washington County Public Works Director Joe Kroboth said last month.
As a result, the Washington County Board of Commissioners ordered that the project be redesigned, Kroboth said. The new concept reduced the size of the building from two stories to one.
If everything goes as planned, the new center would open in 2014.
“Hopefully, they will break ground soon, and it will be built in all of our lifetimes,” Lo joked to the audience.
She showed a video presentation featuring Grady Grimm, a 92-year-old World War II veteran who lauded the commissioners for supporting the senior center.
“I want to thank them in advance because someday, they’ll be using that senior citizen (center), and they’ll pat themselves on the back,” he said.
After the video, Lo opened the floor to questions. About a third of the questions criticized HCC as the proposed site of the new center.
“I thought the presentation was great. I just don’t approve of it being built at HCC,” 59-year-old Hagerstown resident Josette Carpegna said after the meeting. “I worked at HCC, and traffic is terrible at certain parts of the day. I won’t use it myself.”
Carpegna and Hagerstown resident Roseanne Grimm said they believed the county commissioners should have used one of the many vacant buildings in the city or the surrounding area.
“A lot of empty buildings could have been used,” said Roseanne Grimm, 72. “We would have had a center by now.”
A woman who declined to give her name said the commissioners should have put the senior center at the former Giant Eagle supermarket on the north end of Hagerstown.
“I’m going to be dead by the time they get it done,” she said. “Maybe I should run for county commissioner.”