By DAN DEARTH
5:52 PM EDT, September 22, 2011
The Washington County Commission on Aging has made tentative plans to relocate the Washington County Senior Center in an effort to improve services and save $50,000 per year.
Susan MacDonald, executive director of the commission, said officials want to move the center about a half mile from Girls Inc. on Washington Avenue in Hagerstown to the agency's headquarters at 140 W. Franklin St.
She said the Washington County Board of Commissioners would have to approve the move.
"We have to work it out with the commissioners," MacDonald said. "I think it would be best result for the seniors of Washington County."
County Commissioners President Terry Baker said Thursday that he didn't know aging commission officials were thinking about moving the senior center to another temporary site.
"We've never had a discussion among the commissioners of what the (commission on aging) wants to do," Baker said.
He said he believed the next discussion should be about building a permanent senior center.
Plans for a $5.85 million senior center on the Hagerstown Community College campus have been held up because of a state funding problem.
Washington County had expected to get $600,000 through the Maryland Department of Aging this year, then $200,000 next year.
However, because of questions about the budget process, the county apparently will have to wait until next year to get any state money, further delaying the project.
MacDonald said commission officials found out last month that the Washington County Health Department planned to move its Women, Infants and Children program out of the Aspiring to Serve building at 140 W. Franklin St. She said the move would make room for a senior center on the first and second floors.
The commission has used Girls Inc. as a senior center site since 2008 at an annual cost of about $134,000, MacDonald said. By moving the center to the Aspiring to Serve site, the county could save about $50,000 a year, she said.
In addition to the financial savings, a move into the same building would allow the commission, which is on the fourth floor, to consolidate its services, MacDonald said.
Currently, seniors have to go to the center at Girls Inc. to get a daily meal and participate in exercise programs, she said. The move would bring all of the services to one building.
"To have them fragmented like this is not what we're supposed to be doing," MacDonald said. "I think it would be the best result for the seniors of Washington County."
Virginia Bentz, 79, of Hagerstown, said she had concerns about moving the center to the Aspiring to Serve building.
"I don't know where in the devil the (parking) is," Bentz said.
MacDonald said the proposed site has about 130 parking spaces, compared to 68 at Girls Inc.
Bentz said she believes the county commissioners could find a better site for a permanent senior center than the community college. She said traffic is already too heavy at HCC without adding a senior center.
"It's a lot to think about," Bentz said.
Wayne Ross, 78, said he would prefer a different senior center site because Girls Inc. is geared to serve small children. As a result, seniors have a difficult time packing into the tiny classrooms to take crocheting, Spanish and other classes.
"That is not a good situation for the senior center," said Ross, of Hagerstown. "You're elbow to elbow."
Ross said he wasn't very keen on the idea of building a senior center at HCC, but said that would be better than not having a permanent location.
County health department spokesman Rod MacRae said the WIC program is slated to move in November from the Aspiring to Serve building to the vacated space that used to house the Giant Eagle supermarket on the north side of Hagerstown.
"It's slightly closer to the main health department, and it has a loading dock," MacRae said.
MacDonald said the proposed move wasn't intended to leave Girls Inc. without a steady source of income. Girls Inc. officials knew all along that the arrangement was temporary, she said.
"It was a good place to start a temporary senior center .... But we've outgrown it," MacDonald said. "People are chomping at the bit to have their own center. We're not trying to hurt Girls Inc."
MacDonald said the original agreement was supposed to last for only one year.
Girls Inc. did not return two telephone calls seeking comment.
Staff Writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.
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