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11/11/2009
Councilman Weiner has been pushing for a County resident curatorship program since 2002; Revamped Curatorship Program to be introduced soon - Community News

By Jesse Chadderdon
Community News

Brandywine Hundred, Del. —

On Nov. 11, 2004, two long-vacant Brandywine Hundred farmhouses were abuzz with activity as the curious explored them with an eye toward calling them home.

The county was soliciting potential curators, those interested in living in one of the historic locales in exchange for restoring them.

At the end of the day, however, the doors and windows were once again shuttered. They've stayed that way ever since.

Despite more than 100 applications back in 2004, New Castle County's Resident Curatorship Program never got off the ground.

"We had it ready to go, but after a final review it had some deficiencies," said Councilman Robert Weiner (R-Chatham), who lobbied hard for the program then and has kept the pressure on ever since. "We didn't capture a well-rounded enough array of potential curators who we knew had the skills to deliver on what they were proposing."

Indeed, then-Program Director Lynn Gehouskey said at the time that many of the applicants simply "thought they were getting a free house."

Technically, there would be no mortgage for someone selected as a curator, but there would be a contract binding the tenant to specific improvements over time that could ultimately cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Mike Svaby, who heads the county's Special Services Department, said officials are finalizing specific requirements for each property. A deficiency of the program back in 2004, Svaby said, was that the county did not provide enough guidance.

"We need to be more involved in terms of disclosing what needs to be done at each property, whereas before we were more passive," he said. "It was more like 'here it is, come and get it' and that didn't work for us."

Svaby said his department is close to rolling out the revamped program, key to which will be a website with photos and details specific to each property and a registry for people to sign up before a specific bid is advertised.

"The thing that will make it work [this time] is the way we'll prepare and make sure the properties will be available to the right people," he said. "We want to give them every chance to succeed."

That's welcome news to Rosemary Strohm, who along with her husband Steven, has interest in the Jester Farmhouse. Strohm heard of the program five years ago and thought for sure tenants would be found for the homes in no time. When they weren't, the couple began casually discussing the idea of taking the Jester House "off the grid," making it completely energy self-sufficient.

It's a concept that would never fly in a typical suburban community like North Graylyn Crest, where the couple lives with their six children, but it could be ideal for a somewhat isolated farmhouse with land to spare.

"When those houses were built, there was no electric grid," she said. "You wouldn't be able to put solar panels on the roof because it's historic but you could put them elsewhere on the property. And there's new wood cooking stoves out there that are actually efficient and provide heat as well."

The Strohm's idea illustrates the kind of adaptive reuse that could go into the preservation of the county's historic treasures. Now it's just a matter of officially soliciting proposals, Weiner said.

"There are craftsman, contractors, trades people, all types of people who have the skills to restore these buildings," he said. "Now we have to find them."

Properties targeted for curatorships
Hermitage - Glasgow Park
Iveyside - Bechtel Park
Jester House - Jester Park
Talley House - Talley Day Park
Woodstock - Banning Park

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