Habitat acquires site of old Garrard school

December 17, 2004|BOBBIE CURD

LANCASTER - Garrard County's Habitat for Humanity affiliate is experiencing a bit of Christmas early this year.

"Mr. Arnold sold the land to us for less than half of what it appraised for," says Roberta Keefe, president of the group.

As she speaks, Keefe is standing near icy puddles on a brisk day beside Cecil Arnold and Cecil Dunn. There is a pile of rubble behind them.

The stone heap is what's left of the Mason School, an African American school that was built in 1939 and closed in 1964 when segregation was declared illegal.


The land that measures just under three acres. Arnold recently sold it to the Garrard County affiliate at a discounted cost, and it will be developed into a subdivision of 12 homes.

"I bought it, oh, I don't know - maybe 30 years ago. It was back in the 70s when they declared it a surplus," says Arnold, a retired furniture store owner.

Arnold shies away from the attention. He says Habitat members are the ones working, and that he appreciates everything they do.

"Discounting the land for them, it's not a whole lot on my part. I just thought it would be a good place to develop and build houses," Arnold continues, still modest but warming up to the camera a little.

"We played football right up there, on that hill ... ," says Dunn, a board member for Habitat, " ... it was rough and uneven, but we made it work. We had fun."

Memories of the Mason School

Dunn is sharing his memories from the 12 years attending the school; he enrolled in 1940.

"I was really happy when I found out we were going to be able to buy it and build some houses," Dunn says, then admits that he still regrets that the Mason Alumni Association didn't make a move to buy it years ago.

"We were talking about it, but some were just against it. They thought it was too much money. But man, oh man, what we could've done with this place," Dunn says, pointing out an area where a swingset could've gone, and where they would have expanded the building.

Arnold was using the old Mason School site to store the inventory from his store in Lancaster, and after he sold Arnold's furniture, he brought it to Habitat's attention that the land was available.

"It was just sitting there, not being used, so I brought it up when I was on the board," but at that time Habitat's Garrard chapter did not have the funds needed to do anything with the land.

"We were newly organized," Keefe says, and adds that most have no idea how much money it takes to get land developed for houses from start to finish.

"You have to get the city permits, the plot design has to go to Frankfort for the roads and water lines, the list just goes on," Keefe says, holding out the two plot sites inked in bright blue.

12 new homes

The acreage will provide 12 new modest homes with three to four bedrooms, measuring anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 square feet.

The affiliate will get the volunteers to build, and the families that the homes will go to will be required to put in 300 sweat-equity hours, and pay for supplies and the mortgage. The ultimate pricing for the houses will be set by the tax assessment.

"We have people come from all over, California and so on, to help us build in the spring," Dunn says.

Habitat relies on volunteers to build, but the money comes from grants that people like Keefe work diligently to get.

Right now, the Garrard County affiliate is working with the money it was awarded from Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati through the AHP, Affordable Housing program. The affiliate should also find out soon about another award though a recycling program, termed ACBHHH.

Aluminum Cans Build Habitat for Humanity Homes is a special liaison between Habitat affiliates and aluminum companies, and was created to help affiliates develop a business to create income for their cause.

"We must collect 5,000 pounds of aluminum for a year to qualify, and we have over 15 collection areas set up in Garrard County" Keefe says.

After the requirements have been met, a grant will be awarded that ranges anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.

"The grant money is then only allowed to be used toward maintaining the recycling business on our own to provide some of the income we need," Keefe says.

About $250,000 needed

Habitat is about $250,000 shy of the money it needs to complete the 12-house development, but Keefe and Dunn are very optimistic that everything will happen.

"We're hoping that construction will begin in the spring," Keefe says.

"We're praying that it will, anyway. Someday we'll have 12 families depending on this to be finished," adds Dunn.

To find out how you can help, call Roberta Keefe at (859) 548-2270.

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