Group asks for use of school; Organization eyes Hampstead primary for use as youth center


A Christian organization is asking the county commissioners to let it have the old Hampstead Elementary School to turn into a center for children and teens called Lighthouse of Hope, and possibly a new home for the growing Morning Star Christian School.

However, Commissioners Julia Walsh Gouge and Donald I. Dell have asked Shirley Richards, a Manchester woman who is looking for a home for her new organization, to return with specific information about how she would raise money to cover the extensive rehabilitation the 71-year-old building needs.

"For us to turn the building over to someone who has no funding It's impossible for us. It would be irresponsible," said Gouge.

"I know the funding will be there," said Richards. She said she has spoken to potential donors, including those who would offer in-kind services to fix the building. She said she was reluctant to talk to too many people before knowing whether she would have a chance at the school.

The first order would be to have an engineer examine the structural soundness of the roof trusses and walls supporting the roof, said Michael Maring and Ralph Green, administrators in the county's permits and inspections bureau. They said the damage from the leaky roof might have compromised the trusses and walls. The original building dates to 1928, and additions were built in 1939, 1968 and 1972. The last classes that were held in the school were special education classes in the early 1990s. The building has 64,900 square feet.

Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin said yesterday that he was concerned because county officials had originally agreed to turn the building over to the town, but have not done so.

"I have concerns about the ability of this organization to raise the funds [to rehabilitate the school]," Nevin said. But he said his greater concern was that the commissioners invited no one from the town to participate in the meeting about the future of the building. Town officials have been interested in it for years, and had been trying in vain to get the U.S. Postal Service to build its new office there.

Shirley Richards founded Lighthouse of Hope 2 1/2 years ago and registered it as a private, nonprofit charitable organization. It is not in operation yet, however. She has been looking for a home for it before she begins the work of offering activities and learning experiences for children and teens, particularly in the after-school hours.

The old Hampstead School appealed to her because it is in town, and young people can walk to it.

"I'd like to turn it into a children and youth center, a place where families can come," she said. She said she envisions a computer lab and other activities that would provide "hands-on learning" opportunities.

Joining her in expressing their interest were representatives from Youth for Christ, which has an office on Main Street in Hampstead, and Morning Star Christian School, an independent, nondenominational school using space at Hampstead Baptist Church.

Principal John Butler said the school has 100 pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade. He said the board would have to decide whether to move, but that the school could possibly be a tenant to Lighthouse of Hope.

He said if the school decides to move there, it would be involved in raising money for the renovations.

Youth for Christ also is interested, said Douglas Miller, executive director of the Hampstead office of the 50-year-old organization.

"We saw an opportunity, that if that kind of a center was going to exist in Hampstead, we'd like to be part of it," Miller said. About 200 adolescents and teens from Carroll County and southern Pennsylvania are involved in Youth for Christ's Campus Life clubs in their communities.

Youth for Christ occupies a converted house at the southern end of Hampstead, across Route 30 from a fast-food restaurant. A finished basement provides a large activity space, Miller said, but it has limitations. When the clubs have overnight "lock-in" parties, they often take the teens out to other places during the evening, to give them more room and things to do, Miller said.

U.S. Postal Service officials have said the building and the site pose too many obstacles for them to renovate it.

The building has roof problems, some boarded-up windows and other structural problems that cause it to be classified in the school master plan as being in poor condition, said Albert Eilbacher, facilities planner for Carroll County schools.

The poor shape of the building means that whoever takes it over would have to spend considerable money on renovation and maintenance, said Ken Decker, town manager for Hampstead.

"It would take extremely deep pockets to bring the school up to full functionality," Decker said. He said he hoped the county government would keep town officials apprised of plans for the building.

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