The center was designed without stairs, to make it easily accessible for seniors with limited mobility.

In the entrance, is a snack bar with pre-packaged food and drinks, with tables and chairs nearby in a glass atrium.

Around the corner from the cafe, there's a conference room, decorated in earth tones, with audio and visual capabilities for PowerPoint presentations. Across the hall, are the center's administrative offices and separate offices for three seniors groups: ATLAS, National Active and Retired Federal Employees and the Laurel Friendship Club.

Dernoga said providing the space "didn't come easy" but was something they felt was needed.

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In the 13-station computer room, computers can be lowered into their individual desk tops if the instructor wants to push them together to make a conference table.

"We have this large screen up front so the class instructions can be seen easily by seniors," said computer instructor Charlene Major, who will teach all levels of computer courses. Classes are free this week but will cost residents $10 to $20 in the future.

Just down the hall is an exercise room designed for floor exercises, aerobics,yoga, line-dancing classes and other activities. The room has access to the outdoor patio, which has an array of tables with umbrella coverings in an intimate, wooded setting.

"I had lunch on the patio and loved it," Jo Long, of Laurel, said during the grand opening reception. "I play bingo every week, and I plan to join the exercise classes. I'll be here all the time."

The center has a separate fitness room with treadmills, exercise bikes, leg presses and other equipment chosen with seniors in mind. There's also a billiards room, a woodcraft room, an arts and crafts room, and a ceramics and pottery room that is equipped with a kiln room and pottery wheels.

"This place is fabulous and was so well thought out," said ceramics and pottery instructor Dick Anderson.

Elder wisdom

Members of area senior clubs were heavily involved in the design of the project from day one and made sure their needs were addressed. For example, the bathrooms have railings along the walls that lead into them and spacious companion bathrooms are included in the building.

"I like that the bathrooms don't have doorknobs to turn that some seniors have problems with, and I find the artwork appealing," Bertha Arnistead said. "The toilets are also different heights, which some seniors need."

"Park and planning officials weren't envisioning a center like this, but the seniors were so instrumental in getting this because they sat down with the designers, went over all of the plans and knew what they wanted," Dernoga said. "This was a very collaborative effort, and not a situation where the government threw up a building and asked people what they thought. They had input first, which is why everyone is happy with the center."

Mayor Craig Moe, who spoke at the dedication, described the center as beautiful and well laid out.

"I like the openness and the many areas where seniors can meet and socialize," Moe said. "I was impressed."

City Council member Jan Robison, who served on a task force for the center, was also impressed.

"It's breathtaking," she said. "Having seen the plans and now the end product that will get the seniors out of Phelps and into a beautiful facility is wonderful."

The only damper on the day was that there were some who worked tirelessly on the project but died before the center's plans came to fruition. Frush requested a moment of silence in their honor.

They included a former Dernoga aide, Andy Eppelman, of South Laurel, who worked on the project and whose name is on a plaque on a bench in front of the center. Five ATLAS members who worked on the project also have their names engraved on a rock in a rain garden in front of the center.

"It is a great day in Laurel with the only downside being the people who are no longer here," Curtis said. "But, they'll always be remembered."

The Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center will be open Monday through Saturday. Residents of Prince George's and Montgomery counties who are 60 and older won't be charged for photo entrance identification cards. Residents who are 50 to 59 will be charged $40, and nonresidents will pay $105. Call the center at 301-206-3350.