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The county aims to meet the needs of its expanding senior population with a spacious annex to the O'Malley Senior Center

The Baltimore Sun

It is relatively quiet at the new O'Malley Senior Center Annex.

Retired dispatcher Craig Sisk, 61, enjoys a game of pool alone in the spacious room that features two pool tables - one more than can be found at the senior center across the street.

Longtime patron Marion Adams, 71, shows off a design she painted on a bright pink shirt in her decorative arts class held in the new crafts room.

"I think this is a great opportunity," she said of the new space. "The facilities couldn't be better for learning and play."

The annex, which will celebrate its grand opening today across the street from the O'Malley center, is the county's latest effort to address the needs of an aging but active population, particularly in booming West County.

Center workers said the new space will augment the services at the overcrowded center.

"We were really limited as to what we could offer the seniors," center director Edie Creatty said. "The senior population is growing by leaps and bounds in West County."

In 2005, about 10 percent of Anne Arundel's population of nearly 511,000 was at least 65 years old, according to census data. Nationwide, the number of seniors is expected to double in the next 25 years as baby boomers hit retirement age.

But the county might see an additional influx of seniors sooner than that with a scheduled military expansion at Fort Meade. The Army post expects about 22,000 new military and contracting jobs at the Army post in the next several years, according to a recent military assessment.

The base realignment and closure process "is a major development, bringing full-time, high-wage, family-sustaining jobs to the county," County Executive John R. Leopold said. "Many may have in mind services for their elderly parents who may be coming with them."

The county's seven senior centers draw about 10,000 residents a year. The O'Malley center, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2008, has about 2,100 registered members, Creatty said. The center has offered classes, health screenings and recreational activities, in addition to providing hot lunches for patrons.

Often, seniors will go to the center to take advantage of the nutrition site, which offers exercise classes and equipment. Many attend simply to play a game of cards or chess while catching up with friends.

Wayne Taylor, director of the county's Department of Aging and Disabilities, said the county needs to provide adequate transportation and make sure seniors know about the opportunities available to them.

"We're trying to do more with what we have," Taylor said. "We're making sure we have the right programs that are available ... [and] our centers are more efficient."

An advisory report to Leopold released this month said it was a weakness of the department that some elderly and disabled minorities are not aware of county senior services. It recommended that senior centers be better publicized, and that programs should be moved to publicly owned buildings to reduce costs.

The annex is in the former Odenton Library, which closed three years ago with the opening of the West County Area Library.

The 40-year-old building was given a $500,000 makeover that started last summer, said county Director of Information Technology Planning Trish McGarty, who oversaw the renovation of the annex building.

At just under 8,000 square feet, the annex features an exercise room with equipment, a billiards room, two private counseling offices, four computers with Internet access and classroom space.

The annex will continue to offer the same services as the center, including medical counseling and income tax services.

"We're anxious for the community to know that the expanded center is here for them," McGarty said.

The dedication ceremony for the annex, 1270 Odenton Road, will be held at 1 p.m. today. Seniors and their families, friends and neighbors are welcome to tour the facility.

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