Grants Sought for Berlin Project, Housing Rehabs

SNOW HILL- Berlin residents and some county homeowners are
hoping that requests for community development block grant (CDBG) funding will
come through for the replacement of a community center in Berlin and the
county’s housing rehabilitation program.

The Worcester County Commissioners agreed to support the
grant applications for both endeavors at Tuesday’s commissioner meeting.

Efforts to replace the run down multi-purpose building on
Berlin’s Flower Street will move forward if the CDBG program smiles on a
$94,000 grant request to fund planning and design for a new structure.

“This building desperately needs replacing,” said Fred
Mitchell, executive director of Shore Up! The organization leases the
multi-purpose building, but has been unable to use it recently for Head Start
and after school programs with the building deteriorating.

The Head Start
program, for three to five-year-old children, has been moved into a nearby

The building was also used for training, to prepare meals,
and to do intake for energy and food assistance programs.

“We can’t do any of that at this point,” Mitchell said.

CDBG funding must be applied for through a governmental
entity, but the town of Berlin cannot apply for more funding until the Flower
Street sidewalks project is complete.

“This project is fully supported by the town of Berlin,”
said Berlin councilmember and Shore Up! employee Dean Burrell. “We can’t do
this application because of a pending project.”

Construction has not yet begun on the sidewalks. “We got
hung up with easements. Therefore this project has been pushed back,” Burrell

Mitchell implored the commissioners to push for the CDBG
funds for the project. “We’re asking that you assist us in getting funds for
this first phase,” he said. He went on to explain, “We discovered it can’t be
renovated. It’ll just be too costly.”

During the public hearing portion of the discussion, Ocean
City resident Ellie Diegelmann suggested the project should have a specific
road map for the building to spell out what is needed.

“That’s what they’re asking for,” Commissioner Louise
Gulyas replied. “As far as a plan, that’s what they’re trying to get.”

The multi-purpose building, owned by the Berlin Community
Improvement Association (BCIA), is over 45 years old, and was once part of the
Flower Street elementary school.

BCIA and Shore Up! would like to replace the existing
dilapidated structure with an 18,000 square foot pre-fab steel building. The
current estimate for building costs tops $1.2 million.

Deteriorating homes in Worcester County may also benefit
from the CDBG program, through funding for the Worcester County housing
rehabilitation program.

“We are currently at the end of our current grant,” said
Jo Ellen Bynum, housing rehabilitation coordinator.

The county will request $300,000 to partially fund the
rehabilitation of 18 owner-occupied homes. One hundred percent of any grant
funding will be used for that purpose, while the county matching funds will be
provided through in-kind work.

Bynum said she has 33 qualified applicants already, with
all falling into the low to moderate income categories.

The average home rehabilitation in Worcester County, which
includes work from lead paint abatement to structural issues, costs $52,000.
The grant funding would cover about a third of that cost per homeowner.

“A significant amount of money has to be borrowed by the
home owner,” Bynum. Funding for the rest of the work comes through low-interest
loan programs.

The program has rehabilitated 193 homes in 20