Groundworks’ funding request moves forward

If $500,000 grant application for new shelter/food shelf is approved from CDBG program, town will give $50,000 for project from loan interest proceeds

BRATTLEBORO — The Selectboard has endorsed Groundworks Collaborative's $500,000 grant application to the state's Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG).

If granted by the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the funds will support the nonprofit organization's efforts to build a new facility as a shelter and for its programs at 54 South Main St. [“Groundworks buys land for a new facility,” News, Jan. 30].

CDBG funds are federal monies that are administered by the state, but a municipality must sponsor the application on behalf of the applicant.

The Selectboard also approved giving $50,000 to the project from the town's program income fund.

Board members explained that program income is not taxpayer money. Instead, the town funds the program - often referred to as a revolving loan fund - through interest on loans granted to businesses by the town and other state funds.

The $50,000 is contingent upon the state approving Groundworks' CDBG grant.

Ending a long process

Groundworks searched for approximately four years for a permanent site for its Seasonal Overflow Shelter. The new building at 54 South Main St. will house the SOS. It will also house program offices and serve as a day shelter.

The food shelf would also move there from the organization's current day shelter, the Drop-In Center, at 60 South Main St., the building next door. That structure would transition into administrative office space.

Groundworks Business Manager Jon Hoover told the board that the organization is seeking funds for the $3.1 million project from a variety of sources. These include the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and private donors, who have already pledged approximately a quarter of the capital - or $470,000, Hoover said.

Groundworks board president Chad Farnum said, “It's a very generous community we live in.”

“The folks who come to Groundworks have fallen through almost every safety net there is,” he added, pointing out that the community recognizes the organization's efforts to reduce homelessness.

Operation Manager Rhianna Kendrick told the board that the new building will give Groundworks a single site from which to provide multiple wraparound services.

“Our long-term goal is to put ourselves out of business,” she said.

Board member David Schoales said that in its CDBG application, Groundworks noted an increasing demand for services. Schoales asked how many years the proposed site would have before it reaches capacity.

Kendrick responded that the demand is across all programs. The seasonal overflow shelter has a consistent need for 25 to 30 beds.

Can the house be saved?

At the Feb. 5 meeting, the Selectboard also held a public hearing on the grant application, a step required by the CDBG process.

Three community members offered comments during the hearing, mostly focusing on the vacant house now at 54 South Main St. and its historic significance. The organization plans to demolish it and build its new facility on the site.

According to Groundworks staff, the house was built in the late 1700s. According to records from the Brattleboro Office of Assessment, the wood-frame building was built in 1870. Its condition is listed as “extremely poor for age.”

Abutter Elizabeth Howes said she would like to see 54 South Main “dusted off” and preserved. She said the proposed new shelter and food shelf should be moved to Putney Road, she said.

Farnum said that 54 South Main's façade looks good. It's interior, however, “is too far gone” to be restored. “It's not structurally sound,” he added.

Groundworks had worked with state historic building experts during a feasibility process it conducted before deciding to purchase 54 South Main.

Executive Director Josh Davis told The Commons in a previous interview that the state and Groundworks compromised on the two buildings.

The state experts acknowledged that despite 54 South Main's historic features, restoring the building would be cost-prohibitive, and they okayed the building's demolition.

For its part, Groundworks agreed to renovate 60 South Main, Davis said.

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