Of the 90 people gathered to celebrate their first day in the new building of the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, it was sometimes hard to tell who was blind and who could see.

After the speeches, everyone stood up to sing the hymm "Bless this House," all holding lyric sheets, some of which were printed, and some of which were in Braille.

"I think we should get down on our knees and thank God," said John Meshaw during Monday's staff and employee celebration, the "unofficial" dedication of the Lighthouse building.

Meshaw, 86, who can recall the Lighthouse 50 years ago when it was known as the Columbia Polytechnic Institude and located at 1808 H St. NE, said, "This place, in comparison, is like the White House," Meshaw, who is blind, is one of the persons the lighthouse serves.

The 90 persons gathered on the second floor of the new building at 1421 P St. NW obviously shared his excitement.

"It's kind of hard to believe it's true because we've been working so long to achieve it," said Duane Ekedahl, president of the Lighthouse board of trustees. "For years the Lighthouse has been going about its job quietly, and now we have the opportunity to serve more people."

The Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, which until Monday was located at 2021 14th St. NW. serves blind and visually handicapped people of all ages, from nursery school children to senior citizens.

In the new P Street facility, there is a nursery, workshops where kitchen items such as dishcloths and potholders are produced, and workshops where meckties and equipment belts from telephone linemen are made.

On the second floor is the rehabilitation center. Blind persons are trained so that they can get around by themselves, and taught skills for daily living - how to dial telephones, how to recognize coins, and fold money so that bills of different denominations can be identified - activities that sighted people take for granted.

In addition, there is a full apartment where they are taught cooking, sewing and ironing.

Most of the Lighthouse's programs are disigned to build confidence, and to teach the blind persons to how to handle the world, said Charles Fegan, executive director of the Lighthouse.

"We teach them to live independently. The blind person is perfectly capable of doing anything a sighted person can - they just have to be trained," said Fegan. "By the time a person leaves here, he should be able to cross 14th and F at 5 o'clock in the evening . . . if anyone can."

The Lighthouse serves about 3,000 persons annually. Fegan said he hoped to increase that number now that the Lighthouse has moved into its new building.

Fegan also said he wants to increase the services the Lighthouse offers, and to begin training people for jobs as switchboard operators, microfilm technicians and engravers.

"We help those who can go out into the world, and those who can't," he said. "We need to get more people out into the community, and to provide more employers with qualified people."

"The official dedication of the Lighthouse building will be in "about two months," Fegan said.

"We had the celebration today," he said, "because we felt that those who come in and work every day should dedicate the building."