Need to stabilize hill adds to school project cost

March 17, 1997|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Efforts to expand a 117-year-old school building in the Ellicott City Historic District into a research center for Howard County black history are on shaky ground.

A portion of the funds available for restoring the old Ellicott City Colored School and turning it into a museum must be used for stabilizing the hill the school sits on at Main Street and Rogers Avenue in the Historic District above the Tiber Branch of the Patapsco River. That money had been designated for adding a building to serve as a research center.

Plans call for restoring the one-room building that was used from 1880 to 1953 for black students who lived within a 10-mile radius and building a two-story addition for offices, a community multipurpose room for seminars and lectures, and storage space for historical archives.

But the expansion portion of the project will be delayed until more funding is secured, said Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a Howard Republican who introduced an amendment to the original $220,000 bond bill last week in the General Assembly that would make stabilization a priority.

The poor condition of the building and the surrounding land -- which has steep slopes and is in a flood plain -- has made the project quite complex, McCabe said.

"Once we looked more closely at the project itself, we realized that before we could legitimately restore the school, we would have to do a significant amount of work on the hill itself," he said.

Beulah "Meach" Buckner of Columbia has spearheaded the project since 1989, when she rediscovered the school and worked to get it on the county's list of historic sites.

She also is an officer of the county's African American Historical and Genealogical Society. The museum and research center will operate under that nonprofit society's auspices.

Buckner said the addition is an integral part of the project.

"We don't want it to be just a cute little schoolhouse. We wanted [the research center] for the community," she said.

Stabilizing the site, restoring the school and constructing the building could cost nearly $1 million. The county and state have allocated $440,000.

During the 1998 session, the county delegation will consider requesting $200,000 from the General Assembly to pay for the second building.

The county has pledged to match the $200,000, Buckner said.

Said McCabe: "The addition is something we want to go forward with, but it looks like it'll have to be done in a phase two. And there's no guarantee there will be funds next year."

Pub Date: 3/17/97

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