Banneker project scheduled to begin After much planning and delays, fall date expected for construction

July 16, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

After more than a decade of planning -- and months after a stalled groundbreaking -- construction is poised to begin on the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum in Oella.

The state recently approved the selection of Jack H. Kidd and Associates as the contractor for the $3 million project, said Howard Gaskill, capital projects manager for the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks.

"After all these years we are tickled pink to finally have the beginning of the project imminent," Gaskill said. "It's very exciting."

Approval from the State Board of Public Works was required because the Maryland Historical Trust contributed $650,000 for the project, he said.

Bureaucratic delays and problems with a subcontractor had delayed the bidding process for four months. Supporters had planned to hold a groundbreaking this summer for the park, which will be located on Oella Avenue at Old Frederick Road.

The project will include a 5,900-square-foot visitors center, an exhibit hall and gallery featuring information about Benjamin Banneker, known as "the first black man of science." Archaeological digs have unearthed several artifacts from the homestead of the scientist, who lived in Oella from 1731 to 1806.

Gaskill said the county will pay the remaining cost for the park, with 75 percent of the funds being reimbursed through Maryland's Program Open Space, which acquires parkland, forests and other valuable areas on behalf of the Department of Natural Resources.

As a result of the project, Gaskill said, 24 acres will be improved and a 19th-century farmhouse that had no connection to Banneker will be refurbished. The entire park is 220 acres, he said.

Officials expect to begin construction in the fall and complete the project in 18 months.

Gwen Marable, president of the Friends of Benjamin Banneker, said the group is excited about the project.

"We are looking at fund raising as soon as ground is broken," said Marable, whose organization has 80 members. "We are also looking at educating the public."

Jean Walsh, who has been involved in the project since the county purchased the land a decade ago, said members are eager to begin construction. "We're just happy that the county is finally going to be able to do something."

Pub Date: 7/16/96

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