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Seniors' village at Tome site proposed


Under a plan submitted by a Pennsylvania developer, the run-down and condemned remains of the granite buildings that once housed the turn-of-the-century Tome School in Port Deposit will be restored to their once beaux-arts historic splendor as a retirement community.

Steven D. Risk, president of Paul Risk Associates Inc., based in Quarryville, Pa., sees a time when seniors will occupy the buildings overlooking the Susquehanna River, and their needs - including nursing care, beauty shops, banking, recreation and cultural arts - will be within walking distance.

Risk presented his plan for the redevelopment of the Tome School site during a meeting of the Bainbridge Development Corp. on Thursday night at Cecil Community College. The BDC is a quasi-public agency created by the state legislature in 1999 to oversee the development of the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center. The school had become part of that site.

He said the project would be patterned after the company's Willow Valley retirement center near Lancaster, Pa., but would retain the architecture of the Tome School buildings.

His plan calls for 1,000 units housing about 1,500 people who would be 55 or older. "These are not people who would be putting a strain on your elementary school, junior high or high schools," Risk said at the meeting.

Under the Risk plan, Memorial Hall, once the centerpiece of the private school for boys, would be turned into a performing arts center with a 350-seat theater.

The headmaster's house would become the company's marketing offices.

Three other structures, the Jackson, Madison and Harrison houses, would be living quarters.

The Monroe House, which housed an indoor pool and a gymnasium, would be given new life as a recreational center that could be used by residents of the retirement community and Cecil County residents, Risk said.

He said a social building might include a Starbucks Coffee shop and a Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor.

Risk estimated that the project would cost $250 million to $350 million. He said it would likely take 15 to 20 years to complete, depending on the market.

"When built out," he said, "it will employ between 750 and 1,000 workers. It will not just be a place to live, but an employment center."

Although the construction of the first residential unit is three to five years away, the company has at least two potential buyers.

"Two people have already come to me and said they want to move in," Rick said after the presentation Thursday night.

Jean Anwyll of Elkton is one of those people. "It seems very exciting," she said, admitting that she is looking five to seven years into the future. "It a phenomenal site. I have friends up and down the East Coast - Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. This would be a great location. They could all come to visit."

Harland R. Graef, the chairman of the BDC, said Thursday's meeting was held to allow Risk Associates to present its plan for the Tome School site.

He said there will be another meeting March 15, when directors of the BDC will examine the company's financing capabilities and any partnership they might offer.

Asked if the BDC would be looking at other proposals for the property from other developers, Graef said, "I don't know. Nobody has been beating a path to our door over the past five years to develop the Tome site."

Before Risk Associates can move ahead with its plan, it needs to be approved by the BDC as well as the so-called "Manekin team," which has a contract to develop the Bainbridge site as a residential and employment center.

The Manekin team - MPTM LLC - includes Richard Alter, president of Manekin LLC in Columbia; Clark Turner, president of Bel Air-based Clark Turner Cos.; and John Paterakis, a commercial developer in Baltimore.

As a result of action taken by the directors of the BDC at another meeting Tuesday, area residents will have more say in the development of the Tome School site.

Directors voted against a recommendation by Graef that their meeting exclude time for public comment.

In the past, Graef said, residents didn't use the time to ask questions but to make speeches. "I was accused of all kinds of things, including taking bribes," he said. "I don't know what that had to do with questions."

Graef said public comment periods "were just too disorganized." He said people wouldn't sign up and would speak beyond their allotted time.

"The people should have a say in the process," said Donald Poist, a BDC director. "Whose business are we conducting, if not the public's? If you believe in what you are doing, you should be able to answer anyone's questions."

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