Following a nearly four-year effort to extensively renovate the post home on Hickory Avenue, Harford Post 39 of the American Legion will hold a public open house to show off the work, along with a formal naming and dedication of its hall, on Saturday.
The post home will be open starting at 11 a.m. with the dedication of what will be known as Freedom Hall set for 3 p.m. A dance will be held at 7 p.m. All are welcome.
A canteen provided by Squadron 39, Sons of the American Legion will serve pit beef, ham and turkey sandwiches for $7 and side dishes as priced.
The dance will feature music by "Tranzfusion" from Ocean City. Tickets are $20, with beverages and food available for purchase.
Dick Gebhard, president of the post board of directors, says approximately $233,000 in improvements to the post home were made possible by individual donations from post members, friends, organizations and especially thanks to the generosity of the Sons of the American Legion, the Home Depot Foundation grant fund, labor provided by volunteers and extra materials and services provided by the contractors and architect.
Gebhard said post members, the Sons of the American Legion and Auxiliary Unit 39 use the hall for social events, dances, entertainment, bingo program, fundraisers and meeting space.
The post also makes the hall available for a meeting space in support of Bel Air community organizations such as Cub Scout Pack 830, the Harford County Deputy Sheriff's Union, the American Red Cross for blood drives and other veterans organizations. The facility is a designated emergency relief center for the Town of Bel Air and also can be rented for special celebrations and events.
Chartered in 1929
The National Headquarters of the American Legion granted a charter to Harford Post 39 on Jan. 21, 1929, according to information compiled by Chas Slimowicz, post adjutant and finance officer.
Harford Post 39 first met in various locations and buildings, including the basement of the old movie theater on Main Street and the Odd Fellows building on Pennsylvania Avenue, before the current post home was occupied in 1952.
During the 1960s and 1970s, upgrades were made to the exterior of the building, the canteen and meeting area on the ground floor and to the hall on the second floor of the building. From the early 1970s on, however, only minor updates and repairs were made.
In January 2014, with the assistance and support of Brian Olsen, president of Skorpa Design Studio, who was hired as architect and planner, the post produced a master plan for renovation of the interior of the building's canteen and hall in three phases. The post also secured a line of credit from Harford Bank to be used for the renovations.
In Phase I, the post members and Bristol Construction started the canteen renovation on Feb. 15, 2015 and completed it on March 26, 2015.
Renovating the hall
The planning for Phase II for the renovation of the post hall and canteen ladies restroom and for Phase III for renovation of the canteen men's restroom began in January 2016 and was completed in April 2016.
Through the generosity of individual donors and fundraisers, work on Phase II began on July 5, 2016, with Benchmark Contracting Services of Bel Air hired to renovate the hall and the canteen's ladies restroom.
Andrew Tsottles, president of the firm, and his staff of Brady Franz, Nick Mezzanotte and Mike Denikos, along with subcontractors Budget Electric, Plumb Dog and Rick's Mechanical Contracting, renovated the hall by replacing the ceiling, lighting, heating system, sound system, as well as the old paneled walls with drywall.
The facilities received a fresh coat of paint and new insulation, plus new window treatments and an upgrade of the electrical system to code. The contractors also gutted and renovated the canteen ladies restroom, installing new toilets, sinks and a vanity with mirror, and tiling for the walls and floor and new partitions.
A group of volunteers, including post members, Sons of the American Legion and Auxiliary members renovated the hall's entrance and bar/cloakroom with new flooring and ceiling tiles, lighting and painting of the walls and new trim. New ceiling tile was also added in the upstairs kitchen.
The post hired Luna Carpeting, of Baltimore, to replace the carpeting in the hall entrance area and in the internal stairwell between the first and second floors. Phase II was completed on Oct. 6, 2016.
Grant for Phase III
On Sept. 30, 2016, Harford Post 39 received a grant of $10,000 from The Home Depot Foundation, of Atlanta, for Phase III, the renovation of the canteen men's restroom.
With the guidance and expertise of Skorpa Design's Olsen, the renovation plan and materials list was produced for Phase III. The post also worked with Marquis Carter, specialty ASM, for The Home Depot Bel Air Store, who served as The Home Depot team coordinator.
Joint planning and team coordination meetings were conducted from October to December 2016 with John Garst, The Home Depot team captain; Paul Geisbert, owner and plumber of PRG Services LLC; and Craig Hancock, electrician and owner of Hancock Electric. They produced a very tight four-week schedule to complete the renovation.
Work began with demolition by post members, The Home Depot Team workers and the contractors on Jan. 4. Materials consisting of new sinks, toilets, urinals, electric hand dryer, wall heater and building materials were obtained from the Home Depot Bel Air store.
A team, comprised of volunteers from The Home Depot stores in Bel Air, Cockeysville and Towson, provided professional support by framing the walls and covering them with sheet rock, painting, installing wall and floor tiles and erecting a new ceiling grid and placement of new tiles.
With all the in-house and Home Depot volunteer work, as well as the efforts of the contractors, Phase III was completed on schedule and reopened on Jan. 28.
"These improvements have renewed the interest and enjoyment of many current members and have attracted new members," Russ Getz, Post 39 commander, said. "All improvements have been done for the good of the American Legion and the community."