New security cameras have been installed and blown-out lights have been replaced. Bathrooms have been professionally cleaned and fitted with new fixtures, and the swimming pool -- which had been closed for nearly four years and left in a state of disrepair -- has been renovated and reopened.
The recent changes to the Waxter Center in Mount Vernon -- a community facility for seniors -- are all part of the city's efforts to make good on a promise issued last winter: that significant improvements to the building would come hand-in-hand with a new lease of third-floor space to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore, or GLCCB.
"Our work on the Waxter Center is not yet over," wrote Steve Sharkey, director of the city's general services department, in a letter to the Board of Estimates outlining the progress this week. "However, at this point in time, I believe that we are on a favorable road towards enhancing the Waxter Center for the enjoyment of Baltimore's senior citizens."
Concerns about the center's condition first reached a head in February, when word began circulating that the troubled GLCCB -- looking for a new home after selling its longtime headquarters -- would be moving into the Waxter Center under a new lease with the city.
Lester Buster, president of the Waxter Center Advisory Council, and other seniors began expressing concerns that younger GLCCB patrons would disrupt senior activities. They also questioned why a new organization would be brought into the building when the city seemed disinclined to address problems that had been restricting their enjoyment of the facility for years.
When the Board of Estimates approved the lease of the space to the GLCCB for a little more than $30,000 a year, it also promised investments in the center geared toward the seniors' use of it.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake blamed the existing problems on budget shortfalls, and said the city's "commitment to the Waxter Center is to do better."
GLCCB leaders said they would be happy to meet with the seniors to alleviate any fears.
In his letter this week, Sharkey said DGS began taking action immediately after the GLCCB lease was signed. Regular monthly meetings began between DGS, the health department, the Waxter advisory council, the GLCCB and representatives from the offices of Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young. A two-phase attack plan for improvements was drafted.
Today, between $100,000 and $150,000 has been spent on renovations at the center, said Kevin Harris, a spokesman for the mayor. Sharkey's letter outlined improvements from new bathroom fixtures to new security cameras, new janitorial contracts to expanded security hours, and new parking signage to "miscellaneous and sundry repairs" throughout the building.
Trash and broken equipment was cleared, a new filtration system and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant pool lift were installed, damaged floor tiles were replaced and the whole place got a patching up and a paint job.
The pool has been open since the end of September, at least 30 seniors have signed up for classes with a new pool instructor, and center membership "is expected to rise in the next few months as more seniors avail themselves of this service," Sharkey wrote.
The second phase of the renovations is now underway, and will include the replacement of elevators and the renovations of bathrooms, the gym and the locker rooms.
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation has pledged $180,000 for the new gym and gym equipment, Harris said.
All of the changes, in total, will amount to about $1 million in capital improvements at the center, Sharkey's letter said.
"Your office has followed [through] on your promises for improvement," Buster wrote to Sharkey in his own letter, which was attached to Sharkey's for submission to the Board of Estimates. "We know some of the work is cosmetic; however we do believe that you will take the necessary steps to continue to meet your goals."