Late last summer, Willard Hackerman, the head of a large Maryland construction company, volunteered to renovate and furnish transitional housing for some of Montgomery County's homeless, a no-strings-attached offer amounting to $500,000 to $1 million.
Hackerman, who has contributed to similar undertakings in Anne Arundel County and his hometown of Baltimore, said that by winter, small apartments could be furnished and waiting for about a dozen Montgomery County women and their children.
The county offered an empty building -- the historic mansion at Jesup-Blair Park at Eastern and Georgia avenues in Silver Spring.
Since then, the project has had rough going.
First neighbors objected, then preservationists. It was December before the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, owner of the property, approved Hackerman's plan. Then it took months and about $17,000 in county money to remove the asbestos from the 1830s-era mansion, which was a summer home of Silver Spring's founding Blair family and has housed various things since -- among them a draft board, a library and a school.
When the outside paint was being removed, it was discovered that the mansion's inside walls were covered with lead paint, which would have to be removed before children could live there. That took a $25,000 grant from the state.
All the old wood window frames had to be removed to get the lead off. As prominent outside features of a historic property, the window frames had to be restored to the house.
Now, said Richard Ferrara, the county's housing and community development director, "We're hoping we've hit all the blockades we're going to encounter. We should be able to get this done in time for the fall. We're looking at October." The county will be spending $5,000 to $10,000 on each of the 11 units, he said.
Hackerman, who heads the Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. of Towson, Md., said last week that he is "not disappointed" at the pace in Montgomery County.
Michael Subin, the Montgomery County Council member who helped engineer the project, took a more critical view. He called progress on the building "pathetic." The county has "attempted to find more barriers to this than one could imagine," Subin said, adding: "I'm extremely confident it's going to go, providing Mr. Hackerman doesn't just throw his arms up in the air and say, 'I quit.'
"I would hope this is not unique to Montgomery," Subin said of the delays, "but I can't imagine it happening anywhere else."