Four St. Mary's County agencies are proposing a complex in Charlotte Hall that would include a community services center, senior housing units and recreation facilities.

County commissioners last week said the idea is welcome and needed, but they cautioned that additional studies--an assessment of the extent of the need for senior housing in the northern part of St. Mary's, for instance--are needed before deciding.

The St. Mary's County Office on Aging, the Housing Authority, the Department of Recreation and Parks and the Office of Capital Projects have banded to propose the Northern Senior and Community Services Center. The agencies presented the proposal Tuesday to the commissioners, who took no action.

The center may include a senior center and senior housing with as many as 50 rental apartments, a day-care center for seniors, a sheriff's outpost, a Head Start center, a community meeting space and a gymnasium.

The center would be built on 41 acres of county-owned property adjacent to the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, said James S. Stirling, director of the county's Office of Capital Projects. The facility consist of separate buildings and clustered to form a campus, or one large complex, he said.

"This idea has been kicked about for a number of years. It has never come this far," Stirling said.

The center, if built all at once, would cost at least $5 million, according to the group's estimates. The cost for the senior residential apartments was estimated at $3.2 million, which would likely be financed with a combination of private-sector loans and funds from a state program called the Partnership Rental Program. Because St. Mary's has never used those grants, the county has "priority funding" status, officials said, which means funding from the state program would be likely.

"It makes good sense," said Gene Carter, director of the county Office on Aging.

The preliminary proposal calls for building a common activity room on the first floor, with the senior rental apartments above.

"I've heard loud and clear about the need for a senior center in the northern end of the county and the need for a recreational facility, too," said County Commissioner Daniel H. Raley (D-Great Mills).

But Raley and other commissioners expressed reluctance to involve the county in the rental housing business by building the senior housing as part of the proposal.

"What happens after this is built? I'd have some concerns there," Raley said.

Commissioner Joseph F. Anderson (D-Drayden) agreed. "The need for a senior center in the northern part of the county is obvious and well-documented," he said. "The northern part of the county is growing."

However, the housing component is another matter, he said. Although state grants may be available to build rental housing for seniors, Anderson said, "It's an opportunity, but it doesn't necessarily mean we need it."

Board President Julie B. Randall (D-At Large), told Housing Director Dennis Nicholson that he must first determine the extent of need for a senior housing facility before the commissioners could properly evaluate the proposal.

Randall suggested a needs assessment study.

"You all need to come back to us and tell us what are the requirements of the northern end of the county," Randall said. "We ought to first know the total requirements.

"I think you're absolutely on the right track," Randall said.