Montgomery County has begun looking for someone with unusual, and possibly unique, skills. It wants somebody -- fully licensed by the state -- who can search an old graveyard for the remains of an uncertain number of people, exhume them, move them to another cemetery and provide perpetual care for the new graves.

All this for a fee that is yet to be determined.

The graveyard involved is the so-called potter's field of the old county Poor Farm, now a tangled underbrush on the east side of I-270 at the end of Monroe Street, about a mile south of the county courthouse in Rockville.

The farm's 39 acres form one of the largest undeveloped sites along I-270, and the county has a contract to sell it for $3.5 million to Westmont Associates as a hotel and office building site, contingent on removal of the buried remains.

The Poor Farm was established in 1789 as a place where the poor and homeless went to live, to work and, when they died, to be buried.

The farm house was removed in 1959 to provide a site for the county jail, but burials continued until that of Viola Schaefer in 1983.

None of the graves is marked, said William S. Owens, a senior planner for the county Department of Facilities and Services, who is overseeing the removal, which he hopes can take place by May. The agency put out a call last week for "expressions of interest" from funeral directors or cemeteries that might want to undertake the project. Bidding or negotiations would follow.

There is no count of the number of burials (one guess is 500) that, he said, apparently took place in a two- or three-acre portion of the Poor Farm. Removals must be done "in a manner properly respectful and deferential to human dignity."

Such mass exhumations are not unprecedented. The most recent similar undertaking locally was the removal of remains from Harmony Cemetery in Northeast Washington a decade ago, to make way for Metro's Rhode Island Avenue subway station.