$32,000 for work on school is closer Abandoned building was black elementary

January 16, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Grant money from the state should soon help Sykesville bring a historic schoolhouse back to life.

The Maryland Historical Trust has awarded the town $32,000 to renovate the long-abandoned building, built in 1894 and once the only elementary school for black students in southern Carroll and western Howard counties.

"Black children came from all over to go to school here," said the Rev. Ernest Johnson, retired pastor of St. Luke Methodist Church in Sykesville.

He and Sykesville Councilman Eugene E. Johnson, who is not related to the minister, have led the effort to win funding for the project.

The councilman lives within sight of the decrepit building, where his older siblings attended school more than 60 years ago. A museum in the restored school would be a gift to his own children.

"I want it here to show my children how their family came up," he said.

The effort to save the building "with strong family bones" meant numerous rejections of grant applications. "We did a lot of research and found this building is the only black school, which can be restored, in this county," said Councilman Johnson. "We will save it as best we can. It is definitely an important part of local black history."

Persistence paid off. The Maryland Historic Trust awarded the project $7,646 in 1994 and $25,000 last year. However, Sykesville must clear a few more hurdles before it collects the money.

Unless the town finds a nonprofit agency to act as a conduit for the grant, it will have to match the grant amount.

Sykesville, which has budgeted no money for the project, hopes to enter into a long-term lease with the Historical Society of Carroll County, a nonprofit agency that could administer the grant.

"The grant would be in good hands with the society," said Matthew H. Candland, town manager. "They have experience."

Jay Graybeal, director of the Maryland Historical Society, said there is strong competition for grants and he gives the town high marks for effort. "Money for bricks and mortar is extremely difficult to get," he said. "If there is any way to help, we will."

Mr. Graybeal expects a positive response when he goes through the formality of presenting the final lease arrangement to his board of directors this week.

"Our mission is to foster interest in local history and help preserve elements of it," he said. "This project is certainly worthy."

The state trust also requires a survey of the one-fifth-acre property. That will be done as soon as the snow clears, Mr. Candland said. The town has contracted the job to an engineer who surveyed the property in 1979.

"The town will cover the costs, which we expect to be about $300," Mr. Candland said.

Councilman Johnson remains confident that renovations can begin in the spring.

"It has been a long, hard drive to get this project off the ground, but something will be done this time," he said.

The grant will pay for construction materials, sewer and water lines, a bathroom and labor not done by volunteers, he said.

"I hope we can do 80 percent of the work with volunteers," Mr. Johnson said.

Repairs to the exterior, new steps and a landing at the entrance will come first. Mr. Johnson envisions a office and a classroom in the one-room building.

He knows where he can find original school furniture and the old school bell, he said. He promises the schoolhouse museum will give visitors an authentic look at a turn-of-the-century education.

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