June 20, 2002 11:00 pm

When the parking lot fills up at the Union County Senior Center on Cove Avenue, visitors drive around looking for an empty space and often end up parking on gravel near the bus barn.

That may change soon, with a Union County commitment to pave the full parking lot this summer.

"We're going to try to piggyback on the work being done on Buchanan and McAlister (roads)," said County Commissioner John Howard.

The commissioners approved a plan Wednesday to pave the unpaved parts of the lot, which will more than double the parking area.

Howard said Thursday he does not know the cost, but expects to have some estimates within a few days. The county's share of costs will come from the general fund, he said.

"This will give us enough room for everyone to park and space to grow," said Frank Thomas, director of the senior center.

The center will share in the cost of paving, Thomas said, using money from a memorial bequest and carryover from the $500 per month maintenance fund. The county owns the property, but the senior center pays $500 a month for maintenance and upkeep of the building and grounds.

In addition to paving the lot, the county plans to work with the City of La Grande to develop a natural swale and a catch basin between the senior center and the Social Security building to catch runoff from the lot. Howard said trees and other vegetation will be planted in the area, creating a natural swale that will allow water to seep into the ground.

"That will really dress up the area between the two buildings," Howard said.

The project is expected to be finished this summer.

"We're fortunate that the county values our seniors and makes accommodation for our seniors so they have a place to meet," Thomas said.

— Alice Perry Linker