Queenstown Renovation Bogs Down

March 11, 1992|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff writer

The boys restroom is out of order. A piece of pink construction paper announces that the girls restroom is now "Unisex."

The school clock, hanging in the corridor, is a shell of its former self -- only the circular metal frame and a few wires remain.

The cracked floor tiles, stained ceilings and damaged walls beliethe proud history of the former Queenstown Elementary School, now listed as a historic site.

Residents are trying to renovate the building, but they've hit a snag. They can't get additional renovation money from the county unless they have tenants to occupy some of the space. And they're having trouble attracting tenants.

Four years ago, community leaders recognized that the building, located on Queenstown Road, was is dire need of repairs, said Sylvia Garrison, a lifelong Queenstown resident.

Lead paint on the exterior had to be stripped, the rotting roof needed to be replaced, and squirrels in the attic had to be removed.

The community's Severn Improvement Association, which has leased the building from the county since 1975, approached the Division of Housing and Community Development seeking money for renovations.

"We realized the association didn't have enough money to do it," said Garrison, who serves as vice president. "We had these grandiose ideas we would get grant money in phases to complete the entire renovation."

The community was awarded a $60,000 grant in1989 for exterior renovations, including a new roof, which was completed in 1989. But when the group sought another $60,000 to renovate the interior, the well had run dry.

"With the bad economy and all, and so many groups asking for money, it's very unlikely we'll get another grant for that much," Garrison said. So the project temporarily came to a halt.

But community development planners had another idea -- they could offer a low-interest loan for most of the interior renovations if the association could find tenants. The tenants' rent would provide enough revenue to repay the loan.

Finding those tenants, however, may be the tough part.

The building is not on a main thoroughfare, so attracting businesses that need walk-in trade would be difficult, Garrison said. And the 1.5-acre parcel lies in a residential zone, which excludes many types of businesses.

William Gibbons, a county special projects coordinator working with Queenstown residents, said the association probably will have to request special exception permits through the county's Department of Planning and Zoningto get tenants. Only churches and private educational services are allowed in residential zones without permits, he said.

The white, wood-frame building served as the community's elementary school from 1932 to 1955. One of six "Rosenwald" schools left in the county, it was built to educate black students using money donated by Julius Rosenwald, then president of the Sears, Roebuck and Co.

After a stint as a school for special-education students, the county entered into a long-term lease with the Severn Improvement Association for $1 a year. Following completion of exterior renovations, it was rededicated asthe Queenstown Community Center.

The building, which comprises less than 3,000 square feet, now is used for monthly association meetings and meetings of a local Masonic lodge. The community hopes to rentabout 1,800 square feet and use the remaining 1,100 square feet for a meeting and activity room.

Although the association has had onlyone nibble so far -- from a private tutoring service, which probablywon't come through -- Gibbons is confident the association will findsomeone.

"They'll do it. It's an ongoing project, but it'll come together."

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