Neil Donnelly looked up at the side of the Hayward Road property the Religious Coalition wants to turn into a homeless shelter for families and saw the opportunity the abandoned, dilapidated 19th-century building could bring to Frederick.
Donnelly stood next to Gordon De La Vars, pastor at Church of the Transfiguration in Braddock Heights, who was on a recent tour of the property. The building is a “blank canvas to make a dream come true,” Donnelly, director of the emergency shelter for the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs, told De La Vars.
Inside the abandoned farmhouse, paint peels from the walls. The stairs are covered in paint chips and dust. On the third floor, Religious Coalition Executive Director Nick Brown attempted to open a door. Even when he succeeded, he joked that he didn’t want to step onto the wooden platform outside the door.
The Religious Coalition is studying the feasibility of raising enough money to convert the abandoned property at 7516 Hayward Road into a family shelter with up to 10 suites.
Those 10 suites, two on the first floor, six on the second and two on the third, would hold between 40 and 50 people.
The city of Frederick bought the property from Frederick County Public Schools, which vacated the property long before it was sold to the city in 2013. The city then built a water tower on part of the land.
The building, constructed in 1885, was originally used as a home, said Sara Ryan, development manager for the nonprofit coalition.
Because of the age of the building, the interior will need to be gutted, Donnelly said. The paint used on the inside of the property is likely lead paint. This means getting rid of some of the woodwork as well.
Some on the tour suggested historic preservation organizations might be able to salvage some.
Even some of the doors will have to go, Donnelly said, because they are not up to fire code, ADA compliance and other building mandates.
The “skin” of the building will remain, but the inside will be completely new, he said.
Besides the suites, Donnelly and Brown pointed out areas of the property that will be used for storage, including a room on the top floor and the basement. There will be a backyard play area for children.
The suites will not have individual kitchens in them, Donnelly said. The rooms are meant to be “configurable” for different-sized families.
“It’s not an apartment, it’s not a destination,” he said. “It’s a shelter.”
The shelter will address an unmet need, he said. Right now, families in the shelter system use a scattered-style shelter, with partnering houses of worship caring for families on a short-term basis. Families typically move from location to location during their time with the program.
The Hayward property is an ideal location for the shelter because of its proximity to a bus station. There is one on Hayward Road, about half a block away. The shelter would also be on the north side of Frederick. While the shelter is in the city of Frederick, it is not just for city residents, Donnelly said.
“We really believe this will meet that somewhat unmet need,” Donnelly said.