Building the Future

Building the Future

After more than a decade of talk, the Scotland Community Center could be inching towards renovation.

Latisha Gasaway spent the first twelve years of her life growing up in Scotland. Now 28, she remembers a time when the Scotland Community Center was the heart of the community and parents and children alike flocked to it throughout the year.

"The parents were involved," said Gasaway. "Every Thursday night they would come down to the gym and play volleyball. We were just kids so we didn't play, but we watched them and they had a good time. It was the best thing going."

Gasaway, who lives in Gaithersburg, teaches the preschool class at the center and organized last month's Black History Month celebration.

Along with being a popular place among adults, Gasaway remembers the center as a hotspot for the community's children, particularly wet and wild summer camps.

Times have changed.

Due to budget constraints, a building in physical decline, and a decrease in use by Scotland's adult residents, the center is not the bustling core of the community that once it was.

"What happened is the 1040," said Gasaway, referring to the mandated maximum of hours that part-time county employees are allowed to work. "That's the big issue, the staff is so limited in their hours that there's only so much that can be done."

Originally built to serve as more of a clubhouse than a community center, the facility long ago outgrew its original design, said Billie Wilson, the director of the Department of Recreation Western region community centers, which includes Scotland and Potomac Community Center.

Because of the design and layout of the center, it is impossible to hold more than one activity at a time in the building, said Wilson.

With limited space, Wilson said that storage is also a problem.

RENOVATIONS HAVE been promised to the Scotland Community Center for years, but so far they have not come.

Long-time Scotland resident Bette Thompson said the effort to get funding for renovation of the center, which opened in 1978, began in the mid 1990s.

“We talked to [county officials], we wrote letters,” said Thompson. “Nothing came of it; they just kept talking and talking, but nothing happened.”

Cynthia Marshal of Action in Montgomery said that that might finally change. AIM, a faith-based, non-partisan community activism group, is working with the Scotland Community Center and several other community centers in historically black neighborhoods in Montgomery County to obtain funding for what she said are much needed renovations.

“For the first time people [different] communities are coming together to work on the issue,” said Marshal. “By coming together we’re building a base of power; you have to have power to get things done.”

The collaborated effort produced a personal meeting with County Executive Ike Leggett and 163 members of the Scotland, Sandy Springs, and Good Hope communities, along with AIM representatives and area ministers on March 13.

Marshal said that the meeting resulted in a promise from Leggett to put the rehabilitation of the Scotland Community Center into the proposed Capital Improvement Program (CIP) that he will sent to county council in January 2008. The CIP budgets money for county building projects for a six year span; the projects that Leggett will propose in January 2008, if approved by the county council, would be scheduled for construction between 2009 and 2014.

While the hurdle between being proposed in the CIP to being in the CIP that the county council approves is not small, Marshal is cautiously optimistic about those chances.

A recent meeting with Roger Berliner (D-1) of the county council was productive and Marshal said that she was encouraged by Berliner’s response that he would support the renovation of the center in the next CIP.

WALKING THROUGH the Scotland Community Center, Elizabeth Ortega-Lohmeyer, the community center’s director, sees so much for the neighborhood of Scotland to be proud of and yet much that can be improved.

Though the center offers a variety of programs to the community’s residents, not all of them are successful at getting a lot of participants, said Ortega-Lohmeyer.

Between church obligations, working late, and taking care of their children when they get home, Ortega said that many of Scotland’s adult residents don’t often find the time to come to the center. The children of Scotland are those most apt to come to the center for different programs.

Ortega-Lohmeyer, who became director of the Scotland Community Center IN November of 2006, said that her main goal is to increase participation in the community center’s programs by all residents.

The basketball gym is the most popular place for the children of Scotland to use in the community center — from preschoolers through those in high school. The court is not full size and has no room for stands or observers. Some of the padding on the walls surrounding the court is torn. Still, when the center stays open twice a month until 1 a.m., Ortega said that this is the room that is packed until closing time.

Three foosball tables, an air hockey table and two ping-pong tables line the walls of the center’s multi-purpose room, which hosts group dinners, homework clubs, karate classes, art lessons, financial advice seminars, public meetings, magic shows and many other activities.

The weight room at the center, a dark, narrow room, has a treadmill and three exercise bikes, two of which do not work. There are freeweights along one wall and a multi-purpose weight system in another corner of the narrow room. Most of the equipment was donated to the community center in the 1980s by Suburban Hospital.

One new piece of equipment, a brand new treadmill, sits in another corner with glittering instruction lights scrolling past on a digital face.

“Very few people use this room,” said Ortega-Lohmeyer.

The gym and the multi-purpose room are on the lower level of the Scotland Community Center. The foyer, two small offices, a kitchen, two bathrooms, the preschool, computer lab and a television area are all located on a first floor that overlooks the lower multi-purpose room. Space on the first floor is tight and visitors must squeeze past one another to get from one end to the next during popular events.

ALL FIVE of the county’s neighborhood community centers are in the process of being evaluated by engineers and architects for potential renovation, said Wilson. That structural evaluation is part of a larger examination by the county’s Department of Recreation that will include public input to assess the need and viability for upgrades and renovation in each center.

“All of those centers are old and need lots or renovations and upkeep,” said Wilson. A series of public meetings will be held in the last week of April and the first week of May to get input from the communities, including Scotland, about what they think is needed at their community centers.

“I think these meetings are important to get the public input as to what they want,” said Wilson.

The land on which the Scotland Community Center sits could potentially make renovations a little tricky, said Wilson. The building sits in a bowl, and visitors must walk down a flight of stairs to get to it.

Marshal said to maximize space the center could be built out to the front and sides, eliminating the bowl-effect and creating a larger facility.

Whatever the ultimate plans are, she said it is important that the renovation is not delayed any further.

“It’s an exciting time,” said Wilson. “We’re looking at positive changes that could impact the programming that’s possible there and the opportunities that are available to [the] community.”