An initial concept for the future Dar-us-Salaam Education and Community Campus includes a perimeter of tall trees for privacy and a stream, walking and biking paths, and flower garden going all around the campus. Most of the parking will be underground and lie beneath the courtyard. Board members say they want to preserve green space and the natural setting and that despite the expense, underground parking is a good long term investment. CLICK TO ENLARGE.
66-Acre Education, Community Campus Would Be Hub of Islamic Learning
In a move that could change the Islamic demographics of the greater Baltimore-Washington metropolitan region, the Dar-us-Salaam community announced on Saturday, August 4, 2012 its plans to develop a new home in rural Howard County, Maryland.
In late June, Dar-us-Salaam signed a contract to purchase the 66-acre Woodmont Academy campus in Cooksville, Maryland, a small town about 15 miles west of Ellicott City. The initial $10 million price was negotiated down to $8 million over the last several months; the contract includes a study period of up to 9 months to allow for zoning approvals.
Searching for a new home has been a top priority for Dar-us-Salaam's leadership for the last 8 years. “I would say we've looked at least 200 properties,” Dar-us-Salaam founder and Imam Safi Khan told the congregation at the conclusion of the Dar-us-Salaam Hifz School and Qur'an Programs iftar program held at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum. A “major announcement” was advertised as part of the Hifz School iftar program.
In 2010, Dar-us-Salaam signed a contract to purchase an industrial building on about 10 acres in Beltsville, Maryland but due to several factors the deal did not go through. A Muslim realtor and long time community member brought the Woodmont property to Dar-us-Salaam's attention in early January of this year.
A private catholic school, Woodmont Academy moved onto the Cooksville property in 2004, building a new 26,000 square foot state of the art middle school with an indoor gymnasium and adding five modular buildings to the property adding about 36,000 square feet of classroom and office space. Dar-us-Salaam's current facility is about 54,000 square feet.
Woodmont received approval from Howard County for a 3-phase, ten-year plan to build a full campus with thirteen buildings including separate middle and high schools for boys and girls, a large daycare, an indoor pool, gymnasium, auditorium, and other community and administrative buildings and over a dozen outdoor sports fields and courts. The full campus plan was approved for 1,700 students. However, after investing $5 million in traffic turning lanes and in underground water, waste, and power infrastructure, the school decided to close its doors due to dropping enrollment, a result of both the economy and disillusionment within the congregation with leadership according to sources familiar with the school.
“What attracted us most to [the Woodmont property] was the fact that they already received approval from [Howard County] to run a full education campus from pre-Kindergarten through the college level, and to have worship activities, and the fact that there was ample land to grow,” said Sayeed Jaweed, a member of the Dar-us-Salaam shura.
Dar-us-Salaam did not waste any time expressing interest in the property. After a tour of the facility in early January, the shura met with the director of the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning and with staff planners who worked on the Woodmont site-plan approval.
“We basically wanted to know exactly what approvals Woodmont received, how many students, how many parking spaces, all the conditions and limitations on the approval, and then we wanted to compare that with our current and long-term needs to make sure there was a match. [Howard County] was very open and helpful and we look forward to working with them,” said Jaweed.
Imam Safi Khan said the decision to move to a much larger property in a rural area was dictated in large part by Dar-us-Salaam's long term vision to “build a community that can showcase Islam in action.” Dar-us-Salaam's current projects include religious, social, media, youth, health, and business services and entities.
“We have to look at our community's growth in terms of the next 50 years to 100 years, not just 10 or 20 years down the road. This is an investment in the future of the community, for the Muslims who are here long after we are gone,” Imam Safi Khan told about 200 community members who came to a Sunday, August 5 walk-through and town-hall meeting about the property.
A conceptual drawing of the future campus is available on the project's website www.homeoftheheart.org and features two school buildings, an administrative building and a large five-sided masjid around a circular courtyard. The concept plan also shows a stream and garden going around the property, walking and bike paths, a 10 acre farm, a lake, parking, and many trees. “The idea is to have a beautiful, peaceful place where people will want to spend time with their families. We want our neighbors to enjoy the property as well. The [conceptual drawing] is just one idea for the property and we are open to other ideas from the community,” said Imam Safi Khan.
Provided zoning and funding work out, Dar-us-Salaam plans to move all its operations including Al-Huda School to Cooksville in the summer of 2013. The current set-up at Woodmont should be sufficient for the next 5 to 8 years, say board members, after which Dar-us-Salaam hopes to begin constructing the future campus.
Dar-us-Salaam, the parent organization of Al-Huda School – a pre-K through 12th grade accredited full-time school – outgrew their current facility in College Park, Maryland less than ten years after moving there in 1997.
For the last eight years, Dar-us-Salaam faced challenges from a few hostile neighbors and a heavy handed city and county government intent on effectively shutting down the masjid activities.
Zoning ordinances allow Dar-us-Salaam to run a full-time school of around 650 students – the student body is around 550 – but the number of community “worshipers” is limited to 40. In 2006, Dar-us-Salaam started renting off-site facilities for activities like Islamic lectures, dinners, juma' prayer, and ramadan worship. All non-school related Dar-us-Salaam departments and projects like its funding development office, da'wa center, Muslim Funfest carnival committee, the Muslim Link newspaper, and other projects operate out of two suites in a nearby office building.
“Moving the masjid activities, especially juma' prayer, has really fragmented the community,” said Imam Safi Khan. “We feel strongly that the entire community, all of its projects and services, need to be based on one campus, and that the heart of that campus needs to be the masjid. The property in Howard County is well suited for this, In Shaa Allah,” said Imam Safi Khan.
Community reaction was overwhelmingly positive and many started looking at housing in the Cooksville area less than 24 hours after the announcement. However, some Al-Huda School parents expressed concerns about the distance between the current College Park facility and the new property.
“We understand the distance is a challenge in the short term, and this fact was one of the things we discussed most since we discovered the property. But over the long term, the area is an excellent location to have a school and build a community, in shaa Allah,” said shura member Sayeed Jaweed, adding that the shura is looking at offering bus service for Al-Huda students. Cooksville is about 35 minutes from College Park.
Dar-us-Salaam has about 9 months to apply for zoning permissions and to raise the $8 million needed for the purchase; the community plans on soliciting donations locally, nationally, and internationally.
“Ramadan is the time to beg Allah for His Help. We are asking every Muslim who believes in the community building mission to roll up their sleeves for the next several months and really take this cause as their own. We are confident that if our intention is to please Allah and our efforts back that up, Allah will bless us with this campus,” said Imam Safi Khan.
To learn more, visit www.homeoftheheart.org .
UPDATE : The conceptual drawing described in this article is under revision and will not include underground parking; the final site plan will be submitted to Howard County for review and approval in the coming months, In Shaa Allah. -- 10-23-2012