Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Still no floor, wheelchair ramp at Boyds Negro School

Historic building could reopen this fall

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The doors of the historic Boyds Negro School are unlikely to reopen any time soon, as plans to renovate the ailing building have taken far longer than the site’s caretakers expected.

Bureaucratic red tape and a lack of funds have stymied efforts to add a wheelchair ramp as well as repair the building’s floor, front steps and door, said Elaine Fors-MacKellar, president of the Boyds Historical Society, which purchased the school in 1981.

The group had hoped to get the building in service by June, but now members are setting their sights on the fall, Fors-MacKellar said last week.

‘‘We’re very frustrated. Not much is going on,” she said. ‘‘...We’ve had some success stories... but the bureaucratic stuff has been a burden.”

The floor of the 112-year-old building, which served the area’s black children for 40 years at the turn of the 20th century, was removed in November after the discovery of substantial termite damage and rot in the support joists.

However, the group was informed by the Maryland Historical Trust, which is part of the Maryland Department of Planning and has an easement on the property, that it needed permission to alter the building, Fors-MacKellar said.

The work was retroactively approved by the state in late March, and the approval is valid for six months, Michael Day of the Trust’s Office of Preservation Services said last week.

The historical society is now obtaining building permits from the county to finish fixing the floors, Fors-MacKellar said.

An engineer with the Bethesda-based Clark Construction Group will oversee the project free of charge, and volunteers from Our House, a residential job-training center for at-risk teenagers in Brookeville, will complete the work, she said.

Before Clark donated its services to the historical society, cost estimates ranged from $7,000 to $10,000. Fors-MacKellar hopes the project will come in under $5,000, she said.

Once the floor is reconstructed, the group will send a proposal to the state to replace the building’s aging front steps and door, Fors-MacKellar said.

The group also planned to attach a permanent access ramp to the building. The state denied the request in March because it would detract from the character of the one-room schoolhouse, Day said.

The state recommended a temporary ramp that could be stored when not in use, he said.

‘‘We have never ever and would never deny accessibility to any historic building,” Day said.

Russ Holt, a Boyds resident and founder of the non-profit Access Information, Inc., plans to donate an 11-foot temporary aluminum ramp that he had from his work with the dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., he said.

‘‘We all want to see the school succeed,” said Holt, who was partially paralyzed in a 1986 car accident. ‘‘One way to do that is opening it up to field trips, and you can’t open it up to field trips if it’s not wheelchair accessible.”

Fors-MacKellar said that the group will go back to the state with its plans for the temporary ramp, but Day said that the Trust would not need to approve a removable ramp because it would not permanently change the building.

In the meantime, the Boyds Historical Society plans to continue to preserve what members feel is a vital reminder of the area’s past.

‘‘[The group has] six or eight volunteers,” Fors-MacKellar said. ‘‘That’s all this building has to keep from falling apart.”