New life on horizon for site of old school in Carroll County

$10 million project slated to create affordable apartments for seniors

January 20, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Kevin Hann's work boots crunched through the broken glass and fallen pieces of ceiling that littered the floors as he toured the old Hampstead School, while recalling his role as a Munchkin during a play in the auditorium and the orange bench outside the principal's office where students waited in dread.

For years now, vandals have had their way with the hulking, two-story, red-brick building that sits back off the town's Main Street - breaking glass and spraying graffiti.

Someone even tried to chisel out the cornerstone from a 1939 addition to the 1917 building, said Hann, now 33, and the town's assistant superintendent for public works.

Daylight shows through parts of the roof, which leaks so badly that the Carroll County Board of Education stopped years ago using the building even for storage, after closing the school in the late 1980s.

But this spring could mark the beginning of new life in its halls.

The plywood will come off the big arched windows to let sunshine into the dark building, as it is transformed into 84 affordable apartments for independent senior citizens.

The old school and the 1939 addition will be rehabilitated, said Scott Ferguson, project manager for Landex Corp. of Baltimore, one of the developers. A mid-1970s addition at the rear will be torn down and replaced with an addition of about equal size.

Construction will take about 16 months, Ferguson said.

"For most of the century, it was the school in Hampstead," said Town Manager Ken Decker.

In the late 1970s, the school changed from a kindergarten-through-12th-grade building into one for elementary pupils, Decker said.

The auditorium-cafeteria where Hann played his bit part in The Wizard of Oz will be preserved as a common room for the residents, full of natural light.

Hann, who attended first through fifth grades here, said the old school is strong and stable.

"I'm so glad they're saving it. It was great," he said. "Some of the fondest memories of my childhood were here."

Groundbreaking for the $10 million senior-housing project could happen in May, said Cathleen Cadoux, owner of Cadoux Development LLC and part of a development team with Landex; Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland; and Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse Inc., the general contractor.

On that ceremonial day, Cadoux said, she would be a "happy girl." She said she might do "cartwheels down Main Street that day. ... Things are for once and finally all falling into place."

Cadoux has been involved for about three years in the project, which has multiple layers of financing, and federal and state tax credits.

"We've been rejected many, many times and had to battle back from the brink," Decker said. "With the groundbreaking around the corner ... it's hard not to get excited."

Last week, Decker was notified that the project will receive a Maryland Historical Trust tax credit, worth about $1.5 million.

Last year, the project was among 11 approved for the state low-income tax credits program, worth about $2.3 million. That good news came after it was twice turned down.

The town will give the developers the building and a surrounding 5 acres. Town officials won the property from the county by agreeing to extend sewer service to and provide easements for North Carroll Middle School, Decker said.

Hampstead's fight to save the old schoolhouse has been a long one. Decker recently found a 1984 letter from then-Mayor Julia Walsh Gouge to the school board, asking it to give the building to the town.

"We fought for the better part of two decades to get this project," Decker said. Now, "we're at the point where we can think about painting some shovels gold."

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