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Organizers attempt to raise funds for restoration of 'colored school' 115-year-old building to become museum


Organizers of the Ellicott City Colored School restoration project are expecting a sports tournament to succeed where a brick sale and telethon were only modestly successful -- raising money, and plenty of it.

Project leaders began a fund-raiser Wednesday, hoping to raise $100,000 to be used to operate the 115-year-old school building once it is restored and turned into a museum of Howard County black history.

The campaign's highlight will be a June golf and tennis tournament at the Hobbits Glen Golf and Tennis Facilities in Columbia. Organizers said the museum could open as soon as next year.

"We want to be able to run the museum as soon as it's restored," said Beulah "Meach" Buckner, the project's manager who worked to get the building on the county's list of historic sites. "We're trying to do [the fund-raising] right this time."

The school -- at Main Street and Rogers Avenue in the historic district -- is a one-room building with adjoining structures that was attended, before desegregation, by black students who lived within a 10-mile radius. It was open from 1880 to 1953.

Initially, the county and state each donated $14,000 for the project. After the state approved an additional grant of $206,000 for the purchase and restoration of the building last year, the county agreed to match that grant.

Meanwhile, project volunteers held a telethon on public television, a sale of new bricks and steps that would be inscribed and installed outside the school, yard sales and crab feasts to raise additional money, Mrs. Buckner said.

The new fund-raiser is intended to give the museum financial self-sufficiency when it opens, she said. Organizers will sponsor an annual sports tournament to raise money for each year's operating budget.

"Selling bricks is OK, but in order to raise money to run this school, we needed something that could bring in money each year," said Walter Wright, a retired marketing executive who is the fund-raiser's general manager. "We are asking everyone in Howard County to participate in this."

The school's supporters also will hold a silent auction the day of the tournament.

It will take two years to transform the school into a functional museum and research center that will focus specifically on black history in the county.

There also will be a two-story contemporary building attached to the museum that will house offices, a community multipurpose room for seminars and lectures, and storage space for historical archives.

The organizers want $100,000 in operating funds to be in hand when the museum opens so that programs can begin immediately, said Mrs. Buckner, who also is an officer of the county's African American Historical and Genealogical Society.

The museum and research center will operate under the nonprofit society's auspices.

While project leaders try to raise funds for the museum's operating budget, the county is trying to move forward with construction plans.

The county acquired the property from a private owner in July for $80,000, said Ken Alban of the Department of Recreation and Parks capital projects division.

The county will hire an engineer next month to ensure that the architect's design plan is feasible, he said.

The poor condition of the building and the surrounding land -- which has steep slopes and is in a flood plain -- has made the project "quite complex," Mr. Alban said.

Mrs. Buckner, meanwhile, said it is difficult to remain patient.

"It's in the hands of various county departments now," Mrs. Buckner said. "I try not to get my blood pressure up."

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