Around 100 local dignitaries, military officials and curious neighbors gathered in the 400 block of Fremont Street in Lancaster on Thursday for the dedication of the Lancaster Barracks.

The extensively remodeled house at 455 Fremont St. will house participants in Lancaster County’s Veterans Court, a program that helps veterans in trouble with the law to turn their lives around.

Stable housing and sustainable employment are critical to their success, said Judge Jeffery Wright, who presides over the initiative.

Of the two, stable housing is the “trickier issue,” he said, and that’s why Lancaster Barracks was needed.

The Barracks is believed to be the first such facility in the U.S., said Ray D’Agostino, CEO of Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership.

“That’s what we do,” in Lancaster, he said. “We lead the way.”

‘This got me back on my feet’

Alex Marschka, a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, is in Veterans Court due to a DUI. He is likely to be the house’s first resident when he moves in a few weeks from now.

He calls Veterans Court a “wonderful program.” Participants bond with each other and help each other work through their problems, he said.

“It’s a great way to keep each other accountable,” he said. “This got me back on my feet.”

455 Fremont St (copy)

455 Fremont St. is seen in September 2017, before its transformation into Lancaster Barracks. 

Army veteran Joshua Bender said Veterans Court “helped me face my demons.”

Bender served time for injuring his wife with a pellet gun in 2012; a subsequent parole violation led to his admission to Veterans Court in December 2016.

“They’ve really worked with me,” he said. “They’ve helped me through what I was struggling with.”

The house was a blighted property last fall when LHOP bought it from the city Redevelopment Authority for $29,500.

Since then, it’s been overhauled “top to bottom,” said Eddie Patton, who heads the CAPital Workforce program, an initiative of the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County.

The core work crew included 15 to 20 veterans, he said.

Bender said he painted, spackled, caulked and more. He hopes to get a job with CAPital Workforce.

There is still more to do, Patton said; things should wrap up around mid-October.

Barracks residents will be good neighbors, Wright pledged: They are answerable to him for any slip-ups.

Neighbors’ reactions

The property’s turnaround impressed Joe Hauck, who has lived across the street for more than half a century.

“It’s great!” he said.

But Roger Culbreth, a nearby homeowner who opposed the plan when it was announced, said he thinks residents still harbor “mixed emotions” about it and resent the way it was imposed on them.

D’Agostino said he’s heard nothing but positive reactions from neighbors.

The Barracks project was underwritten by a fundraising campaign that brought in about $150,000, a figure that includes in-kind donations, D’Agostino said. No public funding was involved.

Nearly $100,000 in cash, materials and labor went toward the property’s acquisition and renovation. The remainder will be reserved in a capital fund for maintenance and further work — and perhaps even a second Barracks down the road, he said.