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Role Models Academy evicted

July 13, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Role Models America Inc. was evicted Friday from the former Fort Ritchie base but the president of the military-style academy for high school dropouts said he thinks he can resume operations on the property this fall.

"We are leaving and we will return," Role Models President Robert Alexander said. "Nothing is going to stop me."

Alexander said he has good leads on two corporate foundation grants, but he would not elaborate.

Computers, books, desks, chairs and other property left behind by Role Models was put on Highway 491 in front of the base. When property is removed during an eviction it is placed at the nearest public right-of-way, said Bill Blair, a Washington County District Court constable overseeing the eviction.

"It is a shame it came to this but it is about time to get this done," PenMar Development Corp. Board Chairman Brett Wilson said.

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PenMar is Role Model's landlord.

An attempt by Role Models to have a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge block the eviction failed Thursday.

Since March 2000, Role Models has subleased 253,000 square feet from PenMar for about $1.3 million a year.

PenMar alleges Role Models violated the sublease by failing to pay some utility expenses. Role Models owes PenMar about $400,000 in rent and utility costs, Wilson said.

Alexander said Role Models should not have to pay some of those expenses. He said the academy was unable to use about 100,000 square feet of the 253,000 square feet it leased because PenMar refused to make improvements and repairs needed for occupancy.

PenMar has denied any wrongdoing.

Alexander handed the keys for the buildings to a PenMar attorney by noon Friday. On Thursday and Friday, Role Models volunteers moved some of the school's belongings to a nearby warehouse, Alexander said.

Friday afternoon, Blair and PenMar officials went through some of the 54 buildings Role Models had leased. Desks, chairs, filing cabinets and other property left behind was labeled "government property" with tape.

PenMar contracted with a regional firm to remove any property that does not belong to PenMar or the government, Wilson said. That work will continue Monday.

Blair said he was there to confirm that all Role Models property was removed from the 54 buildings.

In mid-June, Role Models filed a $1.8 million lawsuit against PenMar for overpayment of rent and utilities for buildings and services not provided, including $450,493 for renovations it says PenMar failed to make. Alexander said if Role Models prevails in court it will buy the former Fort Ritchie base and evict PenMar.

Alexander said he has had offers to move the school to other former military bases at locations he would not identify in Virginia and Massachusetts, but he wants to return to the former Fort Ritchie base.

"I'm not a quitter. I am not going to back down," he said.

The school operated on a two-year, $10 million U.S. Department of Labor grant that expired June 30. Classes at the school ended in May.

The school's 40 employees are on hiatus, Alexander said.

About 15 students graduated from the school, which opened Oct. 23, 2000.

Role Models filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy May 10, which frees it from the threat of creditors' lawsuits while it reorganizes its finances.

After a series of legal disputes between PenMar and Role Models, the bankruptcy filing had put a stay on any action PenMar might take against Role Models, including eviction. On June 19, Bankruptcy Court Judge Paul Mannes approved a motion that allowed PenMar to proceed with eviction.

As a result of Role Models' bankruptcy filing and other legal actions, PenMar and Army officials delayed a planned May 20 ceremony at which they were to sign a deed transferring 236 acres from Army ownership to PenMar.

The Army is not going to transfer the land until a court appeal filed by Role Models is acted upon, Wilson said. The earliest that will occur is October, he said.

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