By now, Children's House was to have opened its doors and begun caring for families of children receiving emergency treatment at nearby Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Designed to provide temporary living quarters for up to 16 families at a time, it was becoming a national symbol of volunteerism, representing more than $1.4 million worth of donated materials and labor.
But a severe last-minute shortage of volunteer workers has brought work to a halt on the four-level building on McElderry Street, across from the hospital's Wolfe Street entrance.
AThe construction delay, in turn, forced the project's sponsors to push its opening back at least to mid-September, even though the building is 95 percent complete and families need its services immediately.
"We are so close, yet so far away," said Brian Morrison, executive director of the Grant-A-Wish Foundation, the non-profit group behind the charitable venture. "If we had not encountered this problem, we could have been open by now.
"To say that we desperately need help to complete this project is not an exaggeration. There are families at the hospital right now who are sleeping in waiting rooms, hospital stairwells and in their cars in nearby parking garages. The sooner the Children's House is complete, the sooner they will be able to stay in a warm, home-like environment."
Children's House is a short-term, low-cost residence for families who come from around the nation to stay with young relatives being treated at Hopkins for cancer, cystic fibrosis and other catastrophic illnesses.
From the start, the goal was to provide a "home away from home" for families who have no other place to stay in Baltimore and cannot afford a hotel near the hospital for the duration of the patient's treatment.
Equipped with a central kitchen, recreation rooms, meeting spaces and a day-care center as well as upper-level bedroom suites, the facility was designed by Gould Architects to accommodate the families of patients up to 18 years old. The anticipated cost is $15 a day.
In addition, it will serve as a meeting center for support groups such as the Candlelighters Foundation, an organization for parents and grandparents of children with cancer.
What's most unusual about Children's House is the high percentage of materials and labor that have been donated to the Grant-A-Wish Foundation. So much has been donated, planners say, that the foundation essentially is getting a $2.1 million project for a cash outlay of $700,000.
In all, the structure represents the work of 3,000 individual volunteers and 350 companies.
Although donations came in steadily over the past year and the brick shell looks nearly complete, planners have been stymied by a recent shortage of "finish carpenters" needed to complete work on the house's interior living spaces.
Mr. Morrison said 1,600 to 1,700 "man-hours" were needed from finish carpenters, the skilled crafts people who build frames around the doors and windows, baseboard and other trim. So far, he said volunteers have donated about 1,000 man-hours of finish carpentry work; another 600 to 700 hours are needed.
He said the project has stalled because the painters and carpeting crews that are lined up can't start until the carpentry work is complete.
Mr. Morrison said he issued an urgent plea this summer to all the construction companies, union offices and other labor sources that he has tapped in the past -- even groups such as the Maryland National Guard and the state's boot camp graduates.
But no one has come forward with the skilled volunteers needed to finish the job, he said.
Mr. Morrison said part of the problem is that finish carpenters are busy this summer, working seven days a week to make up for lost work time during slower periods earlier this year.
While other construction trades remain in the doldrums, "trim carpentry is one trade that seems as busy as can be," he said.
Architect Amy Gould said another factor may be that many contractors have trimmed their staffs during the recession and don't have any workers to spare for volunteer projects.
Mr. Morrison expressed optimism that if the carpenters do materialize, Children's House still can open by the end of summer.
The need is pressing, he said, noting, "We could fill it the first night."
CAN YOU HELP?
Materials and volunteers are needed to complete Children's House.
Volunteer finish carpenters and security guards who can donate their services are asked to call the Grant-A-Wish Foundation at 242-1549.
A "wish list" is available of materials needed to finish the job, including four security grills, about 900 square feet of commercial grade sheet flooring, hand rails, drinking fountains, interior trim and a telephone system. The company that had pledged a 26-phone system recently filed for bankruptcy court protection.