[nfbmi-talk] wow could have been a school for the blind

fred olver goodfolks at charter.net
Fri Dec 3 22:22:37 UTC 2010

Actually, Joe, this building was the library and museum of the school for 
the blind in Lansing.

Fred Olver

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "joe harcz Comcast" <joeharcz at comcast.net>
To: <nfbmi-talk at nfbnet.org>
Sent: Friday, December 03, 2010 2:28 PM
Subject: [nfbmi-talk] wow could have been a school for the blind

The former School for the Blind library and museum comes back to life as a 
‘neighborhood empowerment center’


Andy Balaskovitz


When walking through the former School for the Blind library and museum on 
Pine Street with Gene Townsend, the construction manager who organized its 

one of the first things he said was, “It’s amazing what you can get done in 
a few weeks.”

Townsend, who also led the redevelopment of the former superintendent’s 
house just a short walk away, was referring to the amount of work slated to 
be done

by Dec. 20 when multiple neighborhood groups move into the property.

But in a few weeks, the floors and wood walls will be finished and light 
fixtures will be hung, turning the 46-year-old building into a headquarters 

local neighborhood agencies — all on time and on schedule.

“The goal is to make this building a resource center for neighborhood 
redevelopment,” Townsend said. “This was an old, decrepit building and we 
did a total

gut rehab on it.”

Townsend maintained the “town hall” concept on the inside with an open foyer 
as well as glass-walled conference rooms.

The building is split into two portions: A one-story section to the south 
and a two-story section on the north. He also added a new entrance on the 

side of the building facing Pine Street.

The new tenants of the 17,000square-foot structure will be a Head Start 
branch, a division of the Ingham County Land Bank, the Greater Lansing 
Housing Coalition

and a “few other social services agencies,” Townsend said. Head Start, an 
early child development program, occupies the one-story portion, while the 

groups are in the rest.

The goal is to set the scene for collaboration, he added.

The overall project cost $2 million, which includes the Housing Coalition’s 
purchase of the building and renovation costs. The rehab began in June, 


Townsend is shooting for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design 
(LEED) silver status, which includes rain gardens outside, new windows and 

and cooling equipment — even family-sized bathrooms with showers for people 
who want to clean up after bicycling to work or exercising during lunch 

“That (LEED) process drives a lot of decisions,” Townsend said.

He added that the building hasn’t been used since the 1970s, and demolition 
and asbestos abatement cost about $50,000.

Katherine Draper, executive director of the Housing Coalition, joined 
Townsend on the tour. She couldn’t be happier to move her six-employee 
operation out

of a “little old house.”

“This is very exciting for us,” she said.

“Our mission is to revitalize neighborhoods and assist low income families 
with purchasing homes — this project really fits both of those things.”

She’s referring to the open classroom, workshop and boardroom space that 
will be free for the public.

“This is a phenomenal campus, just a beautiful spot,” she said. “It’s a 
natural extension of the Old Town corridor, and we hope it leads to further 

On the two-story portion, the ceilings were raised five feet to let in more 
light from roughly 10-foot windows that reach the ceiling. The exposed 

is an off-white shade to hide dirt and cobwebs, Townsend said.

The cement pillars along the original, west-facing entrance were also 
maintained. The only real snag Townsend encountered was the foundation of an 
old dormitory

that had to be removed from the parking lot.

“That was a big cost to demolish, but it has gone pretty smoothly,” he said. 
“Good subcontractors make all the difference.”

With the influx of new employees, children and general activity, Townsend 
said neighbors should not be concerned about the traffic (the roads can 

it) or the people (it makes the neighborhood safer). It’s all about density 
to make a neighborhood work.

“It’s about having eyes and ears on the property to make it work,” he said. 
“It’s better than a vacant property with a cyclone fence around it.”

Pam Dutcher, who lives around the corner of the center at 504 W. Grand River 
Ave., has been in the neighborhood for six years.

“They won’t bother me. I don’t mind the extra traffic,” she said.

In her six years there, Dutcher has seen her share of gangs, violence and 
dog fighting near her home, she said. But the new center, along with a 

of homes nearby fixed up by the Land Bank, things are getting better, she 

“That 40 acres of land is nice,” she said, referring to the campus. “A lot 
of people walk their dogs over there.”

This project was about twice as large as Townsend’s Printer’s Row housing 
development in the Cherry Hill Neighborhood downtown, he said. This is 

feather in his cap, though, for the area in and around the Walnut 
neighborhood: He was also construction manager for a couple of houses on 
Maple Street

as well as the former superintendent’s house, which is used by Rizzi 

Townsend said the old school building on campus a short walk away from the 
center is “getting the most attention” now. It would most likely be 

but there are significant startup costs standing in its way — the price of 
rent must make up for the costs to renovate, which looks shaky right now.

“They would make wonderful lofts,” he said.

When looking around the property, it becomes obvious Townsend is leaving his 
mark. But he’s modest. “Yeah, we’re starting to. This is going to be a cool


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