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Families wait for housing

August 01, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

BOONSBORO - Renae Johnson and her 12-year-old son, Kyle, will live on one side of the duplex.

Dick and Dixie Sirbaugh and their 18-year-old daughter, Katie, will live on the other.

When their Habitat for Humanity house off St. Paul Street in Boonsboro is finished, both families will be grateful to move in.

The anxiety as they wait - for years on a list; for weeks and months during the construction - has not been typical for people uprooting their lives.

"Let's say 'nervous' because of all the controversy," Dixie Sirbaugh said. "We're really just country people. We've stayed to ourselves."

The project drew fire from neighbors who said the duplex should not front a narrow alley.

In June, the Boonsboro Town Council passed an emergency ordinance that could have stopped the project, but Habitat volunteers hurried to build the house before the law took effect.

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Shortly before the deadline, Mayor Charles F. "Skip" Kauffman Jr. announced that Habitat appeared to have completed enough of the house to earn legal protection, so the town's ordinance wouldn't apply.

Karen Shifler, who lives across the alley, obtained a temporary restraining order from a Washington County circuit judge, but a second circuit judge vacated the order.

Shifler's lawsuit seeking to permanently halt the construction is pending.

Johnson said she hasn't followed news of the back-and-forth maneuvering and she isn't letting the tension get to her.

"I just go day by day," she said. "Either it's going to work or not."

Johnson, 37, grew up outside Funkstown and went to South Hagerstown High School.

She's been separated from her husband for about six months. She and her son are living in Hagerstown.

Johnson started a job in a mailroom in Hagerstown about two months ago.

She thinks the adjustment will be insignificant for her - "I don't care where I live," she said - but for Kyle, it might take time.

"It's gonna be a little different because I'll have to make changes," Kyle said.

That includes new friends and a new school.

Kyle finished sixth grade at E. Russell Hicks Middle School, but his mother plans to hold him out of school until their moving plans are firm.

He wonders if he'll know anyone when he enters Boonsboro Middle School.

Whoever befriends him might share his interests: Playing baseball and football outside and video games - you name it - inside.

The Johnsons will start off knowing at least one family in the neighborhood: the Sirbaughs.

Renae Johnson went to South High with the Sirbaughs' daughter Chininnia, 38.

Johnson said her sister had the same experience when she moved into a Habitat house in Hagerstown and already knew someone living in another Habitat house nearby.

The Sirbaughs have five children and 11 grandchildren. Two other children have died, Dixie Sirbaugh said.

She works in the cafeteria at Boonsboro Middle School, serving hot food.

She is worried that a problem with her left shoulder might keep her out of work for a while. When she had surgery on her right shoulder about three years ago, she had to take six months off.

During the school year, Dick Sirbaugh, 46, works the overnight shift as a custodian at Washington County Technical High School.

Dixie Sirbaugh, 56, said her husband helped run John Shank's farm south of Funkstown for more than 20 years.

In 1994, Dick Sirbaugh was run over by a tractor, causing serious injuries.

When he stopped working for Shank, the couple continued to live in the same house, but had to start paying rent, Dixie Sirbaugh said.

Asked what the best part of moving into a Habitat house will be, she said, "My husband would like to own a home."

The worst part? Figuring out where to put everything they've accumulated.

"We've got nine rooms (now) and I'm a pack rat," Dixie Sirbaugh said.

The couple have asked their children to collect their belongings; there will be less room in their half of the duplex in Boonsboro.

If that fails, "we're going to have a big yard sale," she said.

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