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State funds granted for Havre de Grace Colored School, APG Discovery Center

The $250,000 in state funding will support the development of a "preview center" in the Aberdeen train station, which will be an "€œadvertisement" for the Aberdeen Proving Ground Discovery Center project, also planned at the station, according to a local nonprofit.
The $250,000 in state funding will support the development of a "preview center" in the Aberdeen train station, which will be an "€œadvertisement" for the Aberdeen Proving Ground Discovery Center project, also planned at the station, according to a local nonprofit. (Aegis file/Matt Button / BSMG)

Nearly $350,000 in state bond funding has been set aside for ongoing community projects in Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, with the Maryland General Assembly’s approval of a more than $1 billion statewide capital spending bill Wednesday.

The $1.08 billion bond bill, which awaits Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature, includes $96,000 for the restoration of the former Havre de Grace Colored School and $250,000 to build out the first phase of the Aberdeen Proving Ground Discovery Center in part of the Amtrak/MARC train station in downtown Aberdeen.

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The funding for both projects was obtained through bills submitted by Democratic Del. Mary Ann Lisanti. Her district, 34A, includes Aberdeen and Havre de Grace. Lisanti has filed for re-election in this year’s primary race.

Lisanti also sponsored bond funding of $125,000 for renovations and expansions of the emergency shelter operated by Harford County’s Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center, or SARC.

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“I’m grateful to the House and Senate capital budget committees for recognizing the importance of all three of these projects to the greater Harford County community,” Lisanti said.

The Havre de Grace Colored School Foundation, which is part of the nonprofit Community Projects of Havre de Grace Inc., acquired the former school building at Alliance and Stokes streets in early March. Funding came from public and private contributions, including $50,000 from the Harford County government.

The structure, which was being used for medical offices, had been the home of the Colored School from 1910 to 1953. African-American children through eighth grade — and at the high school level starting in the 1930s — were educated in the segregated school. The Colored School was the first public school for black students in Harford County, according to the foundation’s website.

Patricia Cole, chair of the foundation committee, said an inspection showed $96,000 worth of repairs to the building are needed.

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“[The General Assembly] funded the full amount,” Cole said Monday.

Lisanti said the state funds will be used for repairs and restoration. The foundation will establish “interpretive displays” and conduct educational programming in the former school in order to “tell their story about what it was like before integration in Harford County,” she said.

Harford County Public Schools did not desegregate until 1965, more than a decade after the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision striking down school segregation.

“It’s hard to believe today, when you really think about it, that people of color could not go to public schools in our county,” Lisanti said. “It’s important that we learn about this, what it was like in those times and what progress has been made in more than 50 years.”

APG Discovery Center

The $250,000 in state funding will support the development of a “preview center” in the Aberdeen train station at West Bel Air Avenue and Route 40.

The preview center will occupy about 1,200 square feet of unused space in the station and be an “advertisement” for the Aberdeen Proving Ground Discovery Center project, Charlie Nietubicz, vice president of the nonprofit APG Discovery Center, told the Aberdeen mayor and City Council Monday.

“That’s a huge shot in the arm for making this [preview center] happen,” Nietubicz said, noting the city supported obtaining state bond funding.

The preview center will include space for exhibits and meetings. That space in the station, which is owned by MARC and its parent organization, the Maryland Department of Transportation, would be leased by the City of Aberdeen. The city will then lease the space to the nonprofit, pending the execution of a memorandum of understanding between all parties, according to Nietubicz.

“Think of it as an advertisement for the full-fledged Phase II center,” Nietubicz said of the preview center.

The second phase, slated to open in 2022, would be a $2.69 million, 10,000 square-foot facility with a theater and space for APG scientists and engineers to meet with and educate the public about what happens at the Army post, according to Nietubicz.

Aberdeen Proving Ground, which was founded in 1917 during World War I, is Harford County’s largest employer with about 20,000 soldiers and civilian employees. The Army uses the post to test vehicles, equipment, weapons and technology for present and future warfare as well as developing methods to protect the U.S. from biological, chemical, nuclear, radiological or bomb attacks, working in areas of cyber security, public heath science and even conducting background checks.

The post’s senior commander, Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor, has made engagement with communities outside APG’s gates a key part of his leadership since taking command last April. He made recent presentations to the Havre de Grace mayor and City Council and the Harford County Council.

Nietubicz said Taylor, who was not present at the Aberdeen meeting, has been a strong supporter of the Discovery Center project. The concept grew out of last year’s APG centennial celebrations, and the APG Centennial Celebration Association has transitioned into the Discovery Center organization.

“This is a STEM-related activity for our county and the surrounding area,” said Nietubicz, a former APG civilian employee.

He said Discovery Center visitors will “get a chance to see tomorrow’s technology today, and that’s really key.”

Nietubicz said his organization will work in the coming years with government entities, area businesses and organizations to raise money and obtain in-kind services to make the Discovery Center happen.

“Thank you for your support to date,” he told Aberdeen leaders. “We look forward to continued support and working with you to make this vision a reality.”

Lisanti said the Discovery Center will allow students to connect the science, mathematics and technology skills they learn in school with projects underway at Aberdeen Proving Ground and “hopefully develop a career path.”

“It really gives us another educational tool for students in the Harford County community, but it also allows us a platform to educate the public on all the great things that are being done at Aberdeen Proving Ground,” she said.

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