Community hopes center will fill void


Over the past decade, children, teen-agers and senior citizens in Severna Park have been swimming, meeting and painting in an old, crowded YMCA building on Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard.

But by next year, members of the growing community outside of Annapolis will have a new, $3.5 million center - complete with a therapy pool and a swimming pool, basketball and volleyball courts, dance studio and meeting rooms.

Construction on the 36,000-square-foot community center began last summer, and the center has raised $2.5 million for the project, much of it in donations from residents.

Community members hope the center will fill a void long felt in the sprawling neighborhoods along the Broadneck Peninsula.

With the area so spread out, the residents needed a place to gather for meetings, recreation and children's programs. The old center, at 15,000 square feet, wasn't big enough.

"The churches of Severna Park were community centers for the people who belonged to them, but we wanted to extend that to everybody," said Beth Zehe, one of the board members on the committee to start the community center.

"We need it, and you see it when you're in the center. People walk in and say, 'What is this? How do we join?'"

The community center was built as a parish house for St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church. In 1964, the church sold the parish house to the YMCA.

When the YMCA ran into financial trouble seven years ago, the Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church bought the site.

Local residents, many of whom feared a developer would buy the property and build a townhouse development or strip mall, were thrilled.

But Woods did not want to run a swimming pool, said Patt Haun, a longtime church member who is now the center's executive director.

So the church developed a separate, nonprofit organization to operate the community center.

The center developed a list of activities, including a summer camp, an after-school program for adolescents and a steel drum class. The programs kept expanding, but the rooms did not.

"The programming was limited by the physical plant. The board realized we couldn't do more without expanding," Haun said.

So four years ago, Haun joined the center's staff - she previously worked part-time at Woods - and began the fund-raising effort.

Small donations came from residents such as Doris Gavazzi, a retired nurse who was at the center recently for a faux-finish painting class.

"It's very well-supported by the community," said Gavazzi, who rides her bike to the center. "There's a lot of things for kids and teens as well as adults, and it's in a basically safe neighborhood."

Two years ago, the community center effort received a $500,000 matching grant from the state.

Haun said the center is seeking another grant this year, but is unsure whether it will be successful because of the tight budget.

Haun said about 10 percent of the area's 10,000 families have contributed to the effort. She hopes that the construction that's going on - the new pool was poured last week - will encourage those who haven't given to contribute.

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