More than 40 county construction and building trades businesses have joined forces to renovate and add about 2,000 square feet to the American Red Cross office in Bel Air.
With more than $70,000 in labor and materials already pledged, the demolition of the rotted rear portion of the frame and block structure at 122 S. Main St. began last weekend.
At Tuesday's ceremonial beginning, Lester Williams of Bel Air Excavating climbed aboard a powerful 955 Caterpillar front-end loader and began scooping out chunks of red clay spiked with hunks of concrete, remnants of the foundation poured in the late 1930s.
Mike Jones, general contractor and owner of M & M Contracting, and Wayne Wigglesworth, director of the Red Cross Northeast District office, stood by with other business leaders who have donated time and effort into the project that was conceived 15 months ago.
F. David Stoker of Stoker Architects and Designers said Bob Ward, past president of the Harford County Chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, and Don Stephen of Stephen Homes Inc., have been the prime fund-raisers for the the $165,000 project.
"They got me involved last spring," Mr. Stoker said, adding that some of the drafting work was done by students at Harford Technical High School.
Once the excavating is completed, probably early this week, the block foundation for the basement will be started by the Aberdeen Division of York Building Products.
The project will provide the Red Cross with much needed space for storing disaster supplies and classrooms for health, safety and emergency training.
Jan. 1 is a realistic completion date, said Mr. Jones. "My hardest problem will come in not being able to yell at anyone," he said, grinning. "When people are giving you their time and money, it's tough to order them to choose between this job and one that is putting food on their tables."
The building once housed the town's post office. The Red Cross took it over in 1944 and, almost 50 years later, it has become barely functional with only about 1,700 square feet of usable space.
Adding a basement and second floor will give the renovated building about 4,000 square feet of functional space.
Requirements for handicapped accessibility will be met, said Mr. Stokes.
A similar cooperative effort by the Harford Chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland in 1989 provided a 4,200-square-foot dormitory for the FACETS Inc., a boys home in Fallston.
For the Red Cross, emergency preparedness is essential and the renovated building project allows the organization to better serve residents of Harford as well as northern Baltimore County.
The Northeast District of the Red Cross handles about 50 families displaced by fires each year, said Mr. Wigglesworth. But it's the much bigger disaster -- a flood, tornado, hurricane or perhaps a big natural gas explosion -- that concerns him.
"Now we [will be able to] store blankets and cots and other relief supplies and dispense them faster from a central location," he said.
And, for the first time, his office will be able to run simultaneous training sessions for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, First Aid and other health and safety courses.
"We'll even have room for communications equipment, which is essential to any emergency relief service in the 1990s and into the next century," he said.