Historic site gets rebirth as part of retirement center


PORT DEPOSIT -- The headmaster's home, once a stately mansion and proud centerpiece of the turn-of-the century Tome School at the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center, shows years of neglect.

Sections of a 15-foot-high wooden column that once framed the grand entrance lay in a pile.

Inside, plaster that dropped from the ceiling has been swept into piles on floors that show signs of collapsing.

The roof sags, and looters have ripped out anything of value, including chandeliers, the fireplace mantel and the oak banister along the staircase to the second floor.

But the big house on the bluff overlooking this small town on the Susquehanna River is on the verge of a rebirth.

Next month, workers will begin to halt the decay of the headmaster's house and seven other historic granite structures where sons of the well-to-do were educated.

The stabilization work by a Quarryville, Pa., company will mark the start of efforts to return the run-down buildings - including Memorial Hall and the Jackson, Madison and Monroe houses - to their former glory, not as a private school but as part of an upscale retirement center.

"It would be easier and a lot less expensive to start with a raw piece of ground, but there was a lot of pressure to return these buildings to their historic splendor," said Steven P. Risk, president of Paul Risk Associates Inc., which was awarded a contract in October to stabilize the structures and to develop a business plan to use them in the development of a retirement community for 1,500 to 1,800 residents.

The retirement center, covering almost 80 acres, is part of a broader plan to transform the nearly 1,300-acre former Navy boot camp into a business and residential complex including 1,250 additional homes and an employment center designed to attract technology companies.

"It has been a long time, but everything is coming together, finally," said Harland R. Graef, chairman of Bainbridge Development Corp., the quasi-public agency created by the General Assembly six years ago to oversee the redevelopment of the base, which closed in 1976.

"We will see the start of work on the first phase of the residential units - 195 single-family homes off of Route 222 - in the summer," Graef said.

The residential and business park component of Bainbridge is being built by a development group headed by Richard Alter, president of Manekin LLC in Columbia; Clark Turner, president of Clark Turner Cos. in Belcamp; and John Paterakis, a bakery magnate and commercial developer from Baltimore.

"Things are taking off at Bainbridge," said Vernon Thompson, director of Cecil County's economic development office. "People are going to see dirt being moved in the spring. They will see the start of a 25,000- to 30,000-square-foot spec building."

The timing couldn't be better, Thompson said. Bainbridge would be completed about the time thousands of workers, along with new companies, move into the area as a result of the military's decision to shift jobs from New Jersey to Aberdeen Proving Ground, he said.

Risk said the retirement community would be similar to other of his company's projects in Pennsylvania, including Willow Valley near Lancaster, Freedom Village near Coatsville and Shannondell in Valley Forge.

He said the company will spend $500 million on the Tome School project and that it will involve 800 construction workers.

Homes in the retirement community will be marketed primarily to people ages 55 to 65.

Risk said the headmaster's house initially will be used as a sales office.

"It has a fantastic view," he said. "You look down the Susquehanna and the rock quarry, I-95 and the trains crossing the river."

Memorial Hall will house a library and auditorium and will serve as a gathering center. An apartment complex with 250 to 300 units will be attached to the back of the building. The Tome Inn will serve as a dining hall and arts and craft center. It will also be connected to apartments.

The Monroe House will become a fitness and wellness center with workout rooms, an indoor pool, a beauty shop and a cafe.


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