State money secured for McComas School, Epicenter

Funds to preserve the historic McComas School Museum in Joppa and to establish a new manufacturing sciences center partnership with the U.S. Army were secured by Harford County legislators during the recently concluded General Assembly session.

In all, local legislators were able to get $175,000 in state bond funds for three local projects, but they also fell short on what they requested, as a similar number did not make the final list of projects the legislature approved funding for statewide.

Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, a Democrat, obtained $100,000 for a National Center for Manufacturing Sciences — she had filed a bill requesting $300,000 — plus $50,000 more for The Epicenter in Edgewood, a nonprofit community center affiliated with Mountain Christian Church in Joppa.

State Sens. Robert Cassilly and J.B. Jennings, Republicans, requested, and obtained, $25,000 to support the McComas Museum.

The funding will be used as a grant to the Board of Directors of The Hosanna Community House "for the acquisition, planning, design, construction, repair, renovation, reconstruction, site improvement, and capital equipping of the McComas School Museum facility," according to the legislation.

McComas, which is off Singer Road, is one of two schools still standing in Harford County that were built following the Civil War for the children of freed slaves by the federal government's Freemen's Bureau. The other, Hosanna in Darlington, has been extensively restored and renovated for a museum and community center.

Lisanti said Monday she is "very, very pleased" about getting the bond funds for the manufacturing sciences center, a facility that would bring together staff of the Army Research Lab at Aberdeen Proving Ground and representatives of defense contractors.

The two groups would have a facility where they can work together to conduct research, design and build prototypes to improve military equipment, according to Lisanti.

"That is a very exciting opportunity for not only Aberdeen Proving Ground, but for the state of Maryland," she said.

She said the idea for the manufacturing center developed after representatives of local defense contractors, who work with APG, approached her about setting up the facility.

Such a facility allows the designers and manufacturers to be in the same space and collaborate, rather than traveling back and forth.

"It's innovative, it's smart — it saves money because it saves time," Lisanti said.

The initial center will be set up in leased space in The GATE — Government and Technology Enterprise — office park just inside the APG visitors' gate. Lisanti said she hopes, if the incubator is successful, to expand it to unused office space in Aberdeen.

The $100,000 is "seed money" from the state, according to Lisanti. She plans to seek the support of Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland Department of Commerce for a state funding commitment of $250,000 a year for the next four years.

That state money, plus funding commitments from defense contractors, would clear the way for a $50 million federal grant for the manufacturing center, Lisanti said.

"This can revolutionize how we do manufacturing of products," she said.

Lisanti said she has watched the growth of The Epicenter since her days on the County Council.

The Epicenter is a nonprofit entity separate from Mountain Christian, which allows it to accept government grants, according to its website.

The bond money will be used to help administrators expand into unused space in their building off of Route 40 and offer additional programs, Lisanti said.

"They're a benefit to the community, and I've talked to a lot of residents who have benefited from what they've done there," she said.

The $25,000 for the McComas School Museum in Joppa will be used to help the parent organization, Hosanna Community House Inc., create a museum celebrating the history of the McComas Institute, according to Cassilly.

Hosanna Community House operates the Hosanna School Museum in Darlington, and the organization recently acquired the McComas Institute building, which was constructed in 1867, and the neighboring Mount Zion United Methodist Church.

The nonprofit has already secured a $100,000 grant from the Maryland Historical Trust to restore the McComas Institute building and a $5,000 grant from Preservation Maryland for research on the founding of the Freedmen's Bureau schools, according to the news release.

"They have both of these [schools] now, which is terrific because the Hosanna board has great track record of preserving the facility and opening it up for public use," Cassilly said.

Harford legislators had also sought bond funding for the restoration of the Skipjack Martha Lewis, based in Havre de Grace, and for continued support of the Hosanna School Museum. Neither won approval in the final legislation sent to the governor.

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