Phase one of the Laurel Multiservice Center complete
By AIESHA SOLOMON
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in October for the completion of phase one of the Laurel Multiservice Center (LMC).
“This is a big project for the city. This entire project, when it’s said and done, will be close to $18 million,” said Mayor Craig Moe, at the event. “ It’s taken a community, and it’s taken the current council and other councils, to come together and really see how this is going to make a difference in people’s lives down the road.”
The center’s mission, according to the city website, is “to promote stability and self-sufficiency amongst vulnerable populations through the provision of human services. Such efforts aim to promote hope for the future, equity of service, and strengthening of community throughout the Greater City of Laurel area.”
In 2020, the city purchased the former Laurel Sport Fit building at 204 Fort Meade Road for $2.4 million. Phase one involved reconstruction of what had been a gymnasium and two multipurpose rooms.
“A gymnasium of course, it’s just that, it’s a gymnasium. It’s got six basketball goals [hoops] in it,” said Bill Bailey, director of Laurel’s Department of Parks and Recreation. “We’re looking at using that space to rent it out. We get a lot of requests for people looking for gym times for their own teams or organizations and all.”
According to Bailey, the second phase of development will focus on creating the center’s other offerings; short-term housing units, a service kitchen, postal boxes, a barber shop and hair salon, a learning center, a food pantry and a clothing distribution center. Nonprofit organizations will partner with the city to provide the services, he said.
Shannon Mouton, executive director of Laurel Advocacy & Referral Services (LARS), underscored that the development process has been collaborative .“It [has] really been a true collaborative process that has shown the power of a community when we all work together. … so you’ve got us [LARS] doing some things. You’ve got FISH doing some things. You’ve got the Winter Haven Shelter doing some things,” she said, adding, “So everyone’s working together, bringing their special gifts and talents to make this best for everybody, and so it’s been really a great collaborative process.”
The second phase is slated for completion in August 2024, according to Christina Cornwell, director and emergency manager of the Laurel Department of Community Resources and Emergency Management.
“The programs and services will come in at phases, so we may not have everything open up at the same time,” Cornwell said. “We’re always continuing to evaluate what the community need is to make sure that we’re bringing in the right program or service.”
The idea for the multiservice center started in 2019, with creation of the Laurel Homelessness and Community Services Task Force. According to Bailey, the task force brought people together to initially create a plan for a facility that would help the homeless.
City employees then visited shelters throughout Maryland, Virginia and D.C., Bailey said, asking questions at every stop: “What did it incorporate? What did they use? What kind of rooms? Did it have showers? Did it have bathrooms? Did it have laundry? Did it have counseling?”
“Based on what we had found and saw, we came up [with] some ideas and then the engineers started putting to paper, and we all sat down and kind of chewed on it from there and came up with what we now have as a multiservice center,” he said.
At the ribbon cutting event, Councilmember Keith Sydnor (Ward 2) shared his experience with the Laurel Homelessness Task Force.
“This project started several years ago when I was on the homeless task force committee and was talking about areas … Collaborating with the regional county, like Howard County, Montgomery County, dealing with the homeless in our area,” he said. “We wanted to come up with a place that we can address the needs for all the counties.”
Deputy City Administrator Joanne Hall Barr believes that the center is going to be a success.
“Number one, there’s nothing like this anywhere in our area. Not in our county. It’s such a different approach that we’re taking than some of the other places that we’ve seen,” Barr said. “I just don’t think there’s any way it can fail. What [does] success look like? It looks like helping one person. To me, that’s success. And I just believe, and I think everybody else agrees, that this is just going to be nothing but positive for our community.”
After the speeches and the ribbon cutting, attendees were allowed inside the center. Council President Brencis Smith (Ward 2), Councilmember Martin Mitchell (At large) and Moe even played a little basketball on the new gym court.