The current exterior of the Florence Bain 50+ Center in Howard County, Md.

The current exterior of the Florence Bain 50+ Center in Howard County, Md.

Murphy and Dittenhafer Architects is playing an important role updating the Florence Bain 50+ Center in Maryland to meet the needs of a growing 50-plus demographic.

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In Howard County, Md., they don’t call them senior centers anymore.

“Fifty is the new forty,” says Jonathan Taube, architect with Murphy and Dittenhafer Architects, tasked with updating the Florence Bain 50+ Center to keep pace with its clients.

“The senior center idea may be a bit dated. It’s not the truth here,” Taube says. “These are active community centers that play a really important role for this population.”

As part of its on-call contract with Howard County, the architectural firm is now playing an important role updating this center to meet the needs of Howard County’s growing 50-plus demographic.

 Renderings of the new exterior

Renderings of the new exterior

Setting needs to match activities

“People want to come here. It’s fun and exciting,” says Peter Schwab, architect with Murphy and Dittenhafer Architects. To maintain that feeling, Howard County needs to update the structure built in 1981.

“As folks age, they may live in an apartment, not see people as much,” Schwab says. “Maybe the kids have moved away. If they’ve retired, they don’t see work colleagues. Here, they get to meet people and do many different things. The rooms need to be attractive — not at all like an institution.”

“Howard County is doing a great job meeting residents’ needs,” Taube adds, ticking off a list of activities. “This center offers cultural events, entertainment, genealogy classes, arts programs, computer labs, lectures, you can do your taxes. There’s an active woodshop, a nice ceramic studio with kilns.”

The dance and aerobic areas are also expanding, as is the health lounge, to serve body and mind. Clients’ independence varies, too, with some driving to the center on their own, some being dropped off, others battling dementia.

“This is a community safety net, akin to a church or fraternal organization. It’s a way for people to make connections,” Taube says.

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Long term relationship with county helps

Murphy and Dittenhafer Architects’ long-term relationship and on-call contract with Howard County make this project work.

“Projects like this allow us significant engagement,” Taube says. “This contract lets us get to know county officials and employees as human beings and understand the great work they’re doing.”

Taube adds the on-call contract saves the county time and money by not having to bid each and every project. “They need a firm they can trust for a long period of time.”

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Both Taube and Schwab point out their deep knowledge of Howard County’s overall services is important. Each of the county’s “50+” centers has different offerings. The Florence Bain Center has a great billiards playing community, while ping pong is the thing at Ellicott City, and the gym and library are big at Glenwood.

Many clients at Florence Bain are Korean, so this culture’s activities and food are sometimes the focus, helping increase Howard County’s diversity.

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Creating multi-use spaces

“To meet the needs of a diverse and growing population, we need to give the center the ability to schedule spaces in a flexible manner, allowing different groups to use the same space for a period of hours a day,” Schwab says.

This goes for office space, too.

“We’re creating huddle rooms, where staff can meet with someone privately, to discuss health or financial concerns, talk about insurance or other personal issues,” Schwab says. Other office areas will be updated to meet staff needs.

“Employees may work at several buildings, so they often share desks. Staff will be in one building one day, another building another day. This makes better use of office space,” Taube says.

Helping Howard County on limited budget

Howard County must demonstrate the need for these renovations to state agencies to get funding help.

“We did a schematic design study to communicate this to the state,” Taube says. “We’re providing Howard County a road map to the future, to justify different improvement projects in phases. We will produce a concept to allow them to request project funding over two or three phases.”

The result will be a positive for the entire community.

“Anyone visiting here will think this is one of the best expenditures as a county,” Schwab says.

Planned renovations include providing more flexible multi-use space, open office work areas, new entrance canopies and signage, and a new glass “storefront” wall with colored solar blades to reflect sunlight in summer and allow it in during winter.

“It will look more exciting,” Schwab says. “You may have been going to the Bain Center for years, but this will give it a new face.”

All on Howard County’s budget and timeline.


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