Silver Spring community rallies for intergenerational facility

By Kara Rose

Washington Post

September 19, 2012



Despite the numerous Montgomery County housing and commercial development projects in the works for downtown Silver Spring, some say there still are unmet needs in the community.


The Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board hopes to meet one by rallying for an intergenerational facility — a recreation center that would cater to seniors, youth and everyone in between — in the space of the building of the Silver Spring Library once it moves to its new facility at Fenton Street and Wayne Avenue.


“The community has said that we really want an intergeneration center [at the library],” said Evan Glass, chairman of the advisory board. “We want a place where youth can hang out and where seniors can go while they age in place — and we’re pretty adamant about that becoming the community rec center.”


The trouble, Glass said, is finding a way for that to be “financially viable.”


The advisory board supported an intergenerational center at the library in a formal letter to county officials, he said. At the advisory board’s Sept. 10 meeting, community members expressed a desire for an intergenerational facility, which would entail a community center space for recreational and social gatherings for people of all ages. The space would probably include some athletic space, such as basketball courts, and also more quiet meeting space for book clubs or studying.


David Dise, the county’s General Services director, said a potential county use for the space would take precedence as opposed to a private group looking to use the county-owned space, which won’t become vacant for about 24 to 30 months. Dise’s suggestion to the advisory board and the community was to work with the Department of Recreation to achieve the intergenerational facility.


“There’s unquestionably a need for expanded recreation facilities and programming area closer to downtown Silver Spring,” said Gabriel Albornoz, director of the county’s Department of Recreation.


Of the six recreation centers that serve Silver Spring, the closest center to the area is the Long Branch Community Center on Piney Branch Road, which Albornoz said is nearly 2.5 miles from downtown.


The community “has no other community recreation facilities,” according to the recreation department’s facility development plan for 2010-30, which evaluates the needs, goals and objectives of the department based on population growth and access. The report also says the South Central area, which includes Silver Spring, shows the highest level of need by the recreation department.


“The problem we have here is, youth hangout areas have become a game of Whac-A-Mole, and we try to find a place where youth can get together, and then for some reason that’s closed and moved,” Glass said. “We need to find one home for the youth and seniors.”


Those sentiments were echoed by the more than 200 youths and 50 adults surveyed at the Youth Space Charette staged in December 2010, which was sponsored by the Washington Architectural Foundation.


According to the work session’s results, “a safe place to go” was the top thing local young people said was missing from the community. They said the ideal space would contain some kind of an indoor gymnasium or recreation center, a lounge, a homework or study hall, space for music and dancing, a game room and an art gallery.


Of the 71,452 residents of Silver Spring counted in 2010, 21.4 percent were younger than 18 and 8.3 percent were older than 65, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. County South Regional Recreation Supervisor Phil Smakula said the senior population is “probably the most rapidly growing population in the country.”


Compared with some other areas in the county, Smakula said, Silver Spring seniors are well served through the Long Branch Senior Center, the Margaret Schweinhaut Senior Center and the new White Oak Community Recreation Center. Those facilities are at least two miles away from the downtown area.


Still, Richard Jaeggi, executive director for the Gandhi Brigade — which encourages young people in Silver Spring to be civically involved through the media arts — said there are not enough opportunities for different generations to “rub shoulders together and feel more like a community.”


He also said there’s nothing “non-commercial” for that demographic in the downtown area and that in conversations about a space for youth, Jaeggi said, the library came up most frequently.


After an analysis of the group discussions, the architectural group said the ideal program that youth and adults compiled during the chats — including reception space, public space, classrooms/labs, recreation and office space — netted about 13,650 to 14,950 square feet. The library is about 14,500 square feet.


“The idea of a library is a great location, because it’s very close to downtown Silver Spring and it also has outdoor recreation space directly attached to it,” said Jon Lourie of Jon Lourie Associates Architects, who helped organize the charette. “The community is interested in it not just as a youth center, but as an intergenerational center.”