Arc group home starts from scratch

The Baltimore Sun

The startling crunching and cracking sounds that reverberated through a neighborhood near Oakland Mills High School a couple of hours after daybreak yesterday gave way in the afternoon to duller thumps and thuds that are expected to continue today.

Around 8 a.m. yesterday, a backhoe began tearing down a 30-year-old group home co-owned by The Arc of Howard County to make way for a custom-built one.

About a half-hour later, the crumpled remains of the house on Torrent Row lay in heaps on the ground. By today's end, scraps of building materials will be sorted into trash bins and hauled away to various recycling centers.

The best part of the project is the price its nonprofit owners will pay for the new residence - next to nothing.

The effort involves dozens of local contractors and regional building suppliers who are providing goods and services at cost, said Kari Ebeling, director of resource development for The Arc. The organization based on Homewood Road works with children and adults who have cognitive and development disabilities.

At the project's helm is The Arc's longtime corporate friend, Columbia Builders, Inc., which will reimburse participating firms for their contributions and not accept any payment for its services. Some related expenses will be covered by a Community Development Block Grant, she noted.

"This project only exists due to the commitment and personal involvement of Jim Greenfield," said Ebeling. Greenfield, founder of Columbia Builders, received an award for compassionate leadership from The Arc in June.

"Everyone is donating their profits and basically asking their suppliers to do the same," Greenfield said. "We didn't want The Arc to pay a dime."

During the three- to four-month construction phase, the four displaced residents have been temporarily relocated to another group home.

The one-story wood-siding house was built in the late 1970s as part of a neighborhood of prefabricated modular homes, said architect Don Taylor, president of D.W. Taylor Associates Inc. in Dorsey Hall. The structure wasn't serving its four wheelchair-bound clients and their six-person staff very well, he added.

Starting from scratch will allow for a "bigger and better layout," with integrated ramps and other wheelchair-accessible features that previously had been retrofitted, said Taylor.

Not only will The Arc and Supported Living Inc. co-own a new home by mid-fall, the residence will also feature many elements of environmentally friendly construction, he said. Taylor hopes to have the home certified "green" by the National Association of Home Builders, which is based in Washington.

Wider doorways and hallways, tankless water heaters and a water-saving rain-collection system are among the features planned for the 2,450-square-foot replacement structure.

The demolished home was about 1,750 square feet.

"We are thinking this home could serve as a prototype," said Taylor. "The biggest boon will be the long-term minimal maintenance involved."

Many of the 50 houses, townhouses and apartments that The Arc owns, co-owns or rents in the county for 150 of the individuals they serve have "significant repair needs," said Ebeling.

Lowering the costs of upkeep by installing energy-efficient appliances and using environmentally friendly materials are ways to save, as government funds for maintenance are nearly nonexistent, she said. The nonprofit organization must continually raise money and apply for grants to maintain its group homes.

"This is not the best time to be building this," given the state of the current housing market, acknowledged Taylor. "But it certainly has been a rewarding project for all of us."

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