Howard County Executive Calvin Ball on Tuesday announced plans to transform Columbia’s distinctive Columbia Flier building into a new community center.

Ahead of the release of his fiscal year 2025 budget, Ball said he was seeking funding to turn the former newspaper headquarters into The Source Community Center.

County officials envision the space as “a center for people of all ages and abilities in Wilde Lake and surrounding neighborhoods,” Ball said at a news conference Tuesday outside of the contemporary paneled, glass and steel building.

Plans include a 20,000 square-foot gym featuring four basketball courts, game rooms (including a video game area), a recording studio, and computer and Wi-Fi access. The complex would offer tutoring services, arts programing, mentorship programs, and resources for employment and mental health. A food hall is also planned.

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“And perhaps best of all, the economic impact of this new center will create at least 100 new jobs,” Ball said. “This is the exact type of investment our community has been seeking and needs. And I could not be prouder to help take this long anticipated giant leap and to make this vision — this dream — a reality.”

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced Tuesday, April 9, plans to turn the former Columbia Flier building into a community center.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced Tuesday, April 9, plans to turn the former Columbia Flier building into a community center. (Jess Nocera)

A decade has passed since Howard County purchased the Columbia Flier building, which was designed by Bob Moon, an architect who lived in Columbia.

From 1978 until 2011, the building on Little Patuxent Parkway housed the offices of Patuxent Publishing, parent company of the Columbia Flier and the Howard County Times. Moon said in a 2012 interview that the owner of Patuxent “wanted something to reflect the youth and vitality of the organization.”

The newspapers relocated after they were acquired by The Baltimore Sun Co. After the county bought the building in 2014, it considered several uses for the building, including as a home of the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship. But none of the proposals came to pass.

“Through the years, opportunities to sell the building had been uninspiring,” Ball said of the 30,000-square-foot structure, known for its sloping glass curtain wall, metal panels and open lobby.

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While residents rallied for the building to become a community space with resources and amenities, Ball said the “private market saw the site as an ideal target for apartments, fast food or storage.”

County Council Chair Deb Jung, who represents Columbia, has wanted to bring a community center to her district for years. She praised Ball’s plan.

“When I was out running for office the first time in 2017, I knocked on 18,000 doors, and I asked people, ‘What would you like to see in this community?’ And while there were many, many requests, one of the first and foremost requests was, ‘We would love a community center,’” Jung said Tuesday.

Jung said the center will be a safe space for youth to socialize with friends, explore artistic interests, play sports and more. “It will be positive, productive and responsive to the interests of our young people and our families,” Yung said.

Ball also announced anticipated funding for county youth programs.

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He said he is looking to provide $500,000 to the county’s Youth Engagement Program, known as YEP! — on top of the nearly $1 million in such grants that the county has provided to 30 nonprofits for local programs and mentorship to kids.

A few weeks ago, the Wilde Lake Village Board created Club Wilde Lake, an after-school program for youths. Club Wilde Lake offers opportunities in health and wellness, financial literacy, career exploration, physical activity and mentoring.

Ball hopes to include an additional $100,000 for the club in his operating budget, on the top of the $50,000 county grant that it received to launch.

Brandon Cogdell, leader of Club Wilde Lake and a member of the Wilde Lake Village Board, thanked Ball for his commitment Tuesday morning.

“The support from the county executive and his administration has been instrumental in getting this program off the ground,” he said. “Their belief in the power of investing in our youth speaks volumes about their vision for a brighter future for our community.”

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In a related matter, Ball proposed spending $220,000 to launch a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club. The partnership would bring Boys & Girls Club programming to Howard Community College, connecting county youths with “our incredible community college and encourage them to continue their educational journey,” Ball said.

The county executive is expected to release his proposed fiscal year 2025 operating budget next week. Ball is optimistic that the County Council will support his plans, including for youth programs.

“I think having so many council members who recognize the importance in investing in our young people, I’m very hopeful and confident that we’re going to work on this together,” Ball said in an interview.

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