The Calvert County Board of Commissioners may soon take a major step toward building a new senior center in North Beach.

A preliminary public hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 18 and the commissioners could decide that day whether to apply for a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant, which could be used to help pay for planning and design work for the project.

If the commissioners back the grant application, their approval would come with a commitment to pledge $150,000 in county money for the design phase as well.

The proposed senior center would be built to serve a rapidly growing senior population in the northern part of the county. Seniors now share the North Beach Community Center, which is located in the town's old fire house, with groups engaging in many other activities. Several parcels near the existing center are under consideration for the site of the new project.

"The idea is to get a new facility and a much larger one," said Commissioner Barbara A. Stinnett (D-At Large). "It's something that is sorely needed in that area."

Early projections are that the senior center would cost more than $1 million, Stinnett said.

The proposed North Beach Senior Center would not just represent another step in recent efforts to revitalize the town. It also would be part of significant development designed to help seniors in the community. Already, there are plans to develop private housing for seniors in town.

If approved, the center would mark a continuing effort in Calvert to provide facilities for seniors. The Southern Community Center, based in Lusby, opened a new senior wing last year, said Sherrod Sturrock, the capital projects coordinator for Calvert County. The largest county facility serving seniors is the Calvert Pines Senior Center in Prince Frederick, according to Sturrock.

A Senior Facilities Master Plan developed for the county estimates that the senior population will jump by 290.8 percent in North Beach and by 277.5 percent in the Owings vicinity over the next 10 years. Moreover, the plan states, more than "40 percent of the County's increase in senior population over the next 10 years is projected to occur in the census tract that includes North Beach and Chesapeake Beach and the two contiguous census tracts."

The master plan called for "a new full-fledged senior center as soon as one can reasonably and effectively be planned."

The preliminary public hearing next week is necessary to qualify for the grant, which would be federal funds administered by the state, according to Sturrock. He said county officials expect to know by June whether the grant is approved.

If approved, the county will have a final hearing to inform the public about the planning process for the project. Officials, Sturrock said, will "actively solicit input from . . . senior citizens."

CAPTION: BARBARA A. STINNETT