[nfbmi-talk] former msd bldg being renovated

joe harcz Comcast joeharcz at comcast.net
Thu Dec 23 13:49:45 UTC 2010

Crews hustle to bring life to Lansing's Neighborhood Empowerment Center


Former School for the Blind building being renovated


Laura Misjak • lmisjak at lsj.com • December 21, 2010


One of the desolate, brick structures that dots the former campus of the Michigan School for the Blind will be buzzing with life by the end of the year.


Construction crews are working to wrap up the final details in transforming the former Michigan School for the Blind Library and Museum into the Neighborhood

Empowerment Center.


The contemporary design includes 22-foot exposed ceilings, enormous windows, chainmail room dividers and curved hallways - but that isn't what the Greater

Lansing Housing Commission is hoping it will be known for.


"The Neighborhood Empowerment Center was pretty much a vision ... to provide easily accessible housing-related services for the residents of Lansing," said

Katherine Draper, executive director of the housing coalition. "It's kind of like one-stop shopping."


Sixteen buildings sit on the 35-acre campus, most of them vacant. The former superintendent's office now is home to Rizzi Designs.


The Neighborhood Empowerment Center's 17,000-square-foot building also is home to Capital Area Community Services Head Start, and has 700 square feet available

to another nonprofit that might be interested, Draper said.


She hopes residents and organizations will make use of the building's conference room at no cost and use the open sitting area to socialize.


$2.1 million project


The housing coalition is heading up the $2.1 million project with the city of Lansing's Department of Planning and Neighborhood Development and the Michigan

Housing Development Association.


Bob Johnson, director of the Planning and Neighborhood Development Department, said the idea to revitalize the empty buildings on the site was first tossed

around five years ago.


"The mayor asked, 'Should we go after the School for the Blind?' " Johnson said.


The housing coalition hatched an original plan to design the school's former museum into a gym, but the plans were scrapped in favor of a more dynamic idea,

Draper said.


"(The gym idea) was useful, but not something that would really excite people," she said.


Moving in today


Ground broke on the center in May. Head Start moved into the building earlier this year. The housing coalition, the Ingham County Land Bank and a few employees

from the Lansing's development department are set to move in today.


A formal ribbon-cutting is planned for February, Draper said.


"It does my heart good when I go down Maple Street and see houses occupied and construction here," Johnson said.


Stimulus dollars


The work, partially funded by stimulus Neighborhood Stabilization Program dollars, shows how federal money is helping spark more life into the Lansing neighborhood,

said Rick Ballard, MSHDA director of community development.


"We like to think we have a diamond in the rough," he said. "This is really what (stimulus funding) is all about."


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