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Renee Foote saw more than chipping paint when she peered inside the dilapidated rooms of the Lloyd Keaser Community Center.

Looking beyond the broken doors and boarded-up windows, the Head Start project coordinator envisioned two sun-splashed classrooms filled with children memorizing the alphabet.

"I'm really excited about it. This could be a functioning school again," Foote said after touring the run-down community center in Pumphrey last week.

Once the Pumphrey Elementary School, the old building on Belle Grove Road was converted into a community center in 1976. Civic leaders named the center after Lloyd Keaser, a Pumphrey wrestler who won a silver medal in the Olympics that year.

The Pumphrey civic association is lobbying the county to renovate the building and open a Head Start preschool program for area children. Other plans on the table include expanding the free lunch program for low-income seniors and offering adult day care.

Foote and other Head Start officials, who visited the center Thursday, said they're ready to recruit teachers and launch a program there. They've already identified several dozen 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income households eligible for the federally supported, community-based preschool program.

The only obstacle is money.

Renovating the rooms to meet state standards for day-care programs could cost $150,000 to $300,000, county and Head Start officials said.

Because the dust-covered rooms targeted for the preschool program were sealed off for nearly a decade, they need substantial repairs. A door must be cut through the outside wall to provide another access, toilets must be installed and a coatroom should be built inside the hall, Foote said.

Head Start also wants to knock down a wall to create an office with two-way glass, so parents can observe their children without disturbing them.

The county already has earmarked $60,000 from a Community Development Block Grant to begin the work, said Kathleen Koch, assistant planning and zoning officer.

Pumphrey civic leaders, who persuaded the County Council to support the renovation project a few years ago, plan to seek more money from this year's round of federal block grants.

But they will face stiff competition from other Anne Arundel community organizations vying for a share of this year's $2 million pot.

Each year, community groups compete for a portion of the block grants, which are doled out by the county. The plan to open a Head Start program bolsters Pumphrey's chances, Koch predicted.

"One of the things we look at is how often the building is used," she said. "If we go in and rehab the place and it's only used for monthly meetings, it opens itself up to vandalism. Five years down the road, it's going to be in bad shape again."

Even if they succeed in netting more money from the Community Development Block Grant program, Pumphrey leaders still will have to find other sources of financial support. The federal block grants have dwindled in recent years, forcing most groups to get money for large projects from diverse sources, Koch said.

Head Start has about $71,000 set aside to expand into the North County region, Foote said. That amount would underwrite a program for only 26 children, but more federal money has been promised.

The group hopes to enroll as many as 67 children in two morning and afternoon classes at the Keaser Community Center.

Anne Arundel County now has three Head Start programs. Two are located in Annapolis projects, a third in Freetown in Glen Burnie.

Children in Brooklyn Park, Pumphrey and surrounding areas rarely have the chance to participate in the closest Head Start program, in Freetown.

Carlesa Finney, supervisor of the county's Head Start program, said many "eligible young children" could join a program in Pumphrey.

Renovations could start as early as this spring if civic leaders win enough Community Block Grant money. Foote said she would like to hire teachers then and run the program in the children's homes until the renovation is finished.

"We're ready to get rolling," she said.

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