Ground was broken recently for the first apartment building in Maryland to be custom designed and equipped for people with handicaps, and already 400 persons have expressed the desire to live in the 150-unit building.

Inwood House, sponsored by Centers for the Handicapped, a United Way agency that provides daily programs for handicapped adults and children from suburban Maryland, will be built at University Boulevard and Inwood Avenue in Silver Spring. The five-story structure is designed to provide non-institutional alternative housing for physically and/or mentally handicapped persons who are capable of living independently with the aid of some support services.

"Our goal in this place is to make it as close to an apartment house as anyone else will live in," said Elwood Swarmer, executive director of Centers for the Handicapped. "We are still seeing people going into institutions" and even quitting their jobs to do it, he said, because there is no one to provide them with minimal care so they can "remain contributing, working members of our society."

Swarmer gave these examples of types of support services that will be available at the new apartment building: A physically handicapped tenant who needs help getting out of bed and getting ready for the day will be assisted, but will be able to feed himself and get through the rest of the day's activities. Special help could also be available for a retarded tenant who is able to hold down a job, but needs some help in handling free time.

Centers for the Handicapped will provide tenants with one evening meal each day in a central dining area, personal care assistance, organized leisure time activities and recreation planning, social services advocacy and counseling, travel training, job placement services and bus shuttles to shopping areas and other community locations.

The apartment building, which is to be totally accessible to those in wheelchairs, will include 125 one-bedroom and 25 two bedroom units. All areas of Inwood House, inside and outside, are to be accessible to those in with physical handicaps. The facility will have gently sloping ramps and assist rails where necessary, automatic entrance doors and other special features. The apartment units are to be equipped with features such as height-adjustable appliances and cabinets, lowered light switches, oversized hallways and baths, grab bars and widened doorways. The total cost of the project is $6,849,300, Sarmer said, and it is scheduled to be completed next October.

The apartments, each equipped with a small balcony, are unfurnished, though Centers for the Handicapped is in the process of obtaining grants and other assistance to provide furniture to those who need it.

The new building is "the beginning of the beginning," said Alan Kay, president of the Centers for the Handicapped Development Corp., which was established to handle the financial aspects of Inwood House and other building projects. "We are dealing ith people that just happen to have handicaps," he said. "They deserve the right to live independently in the community like everyone else."

Most Inwood House tenants are expected to be in their late 20s or early 30s, Swarmer said. They will be selected, based on individual needs, from handicapped residents of Montgomery and Prince George's counties. More than 50,000 mentally and physically handicapped people live in the two-county area, according to Centers for the Handicapped, and most of them live at home.

Tenants must meet minimum income requirements and thus be able to receive a Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 8 rent subsidy. Under Section 8, each tenant will pay a monthly rent equivalent to 25 percent of his or her adjusted gross income. Centers for the Handicapped is expected to start the application process this December.

The project is fully funded through a U.S. Housing and Urban Development Section 202, 40-year development-construction loan. The general contractor for Inwood House is Forest City Dillion, Inc., contractor for numerous residential facilities for the elderly, many of which were built under HUD funding and specifications.