Old tavern renovated into house for disabled

June 30, 1994|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

Dave Ward is about to move into his dream home. Mr. Ward is a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down, and has been since an accident 17 years ago.

Yesterday, he became resident curator of Future Home, a house renovated especially for the disabled and the elderly on Jarrettsville Pike in Phoenix.

"This is not just for Dave Ward," he said in a quiet voice, showing features of the house. "This is something for everyone."

Future Home is the restored, 135-year-old Smith Tavern on 26 acres in Gunpowder State Park. The state-owned building was rescued from demolition by Mr. Ward in 1986, and since has been listed in the state inventory of historic sites.

Now it is entering the modern phase of its history with three miles of wiring, three central computer systems, three voice recognition units and another 10 computer-driven accessories.

Doors open as a wheelchair approaches, windows open and close with the touch of a button, water runs, and kitchen counters rise and descend the same way. Video cameras and microphones monitor activity inside and outside the house, and air and water temperatures can be controlled from a small console.

Entranceways are oversized to accommodate wheelchairs, an automated staircase provides access to the upstairs and voice-activated computers respond politely to every command.

Money for the basic $400,000 renovation of the tavern came from Mr. Ward and his family, from other private donations, and a grant from the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities.

The Volunteers for Medical Engineering, with headquarters at Montebello Rehabilitation Hospital in Baltimore, and Mr. Ward designed the complex electronics system that operates the home. VME volunteers built the system, spending hundreds of hours wiring the house and adapting various systems to its operation.

VME is a nonprofit organization formed in 1982. Its goal is to customize solutions to problems encountered by the disabled and the elderly.

"This house will represent the mainstream in five to 10 years," said Jeff Jerome, Future Home director. "It will allow people to remain in their homes longer and save a lot of money."

Future Home's purpose is to showcase the technology that makes it run. VME and Mr. Ward will conduct tours by appointment and explain the technology, and people can decide what they might need to make their lives more livable.

Much of the equipment was donated by corporations and civic organizations, including a 35-inch Mitsubishi television set through which many of the home's functions can be controlled by a 4-by-6 inch console. It includes a pill-reminder menu that will tell a person when a pill should be taken and its color. It even has printout capability.

The most expensive piece of equipment costs about $5,000, and much of it retails for less than $1,000, Mr. Jerome said.

"Compare that to the cost of living in an institution, and you can see what we're getting at," he said.

Mr. Ward, 47, suffered a severe spinal injury during a family reunion in Virginia when he slipped off a rope and fell into the shallow water of a lake. His family lives about a mile from Future pTC Home, and Mr. Ward has long been interested in the former tavern.

"I had always wanted to restore this house," he said. "Now I'm going to live in it."

For information on Future Home or an appointment, call (410) 243-7495.

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