Grant To Renovate Federal Building For Housing Assistance Program

A $400,000 award of Community Development Block Grant funds was announced June 4 that will allow development of the Federal Building at 401 Houston Street in Manhattan into regional headquarters for housing assistance programs addressing the needs of homeless and near-homeless families and individuals in the 18 counties of North Central Kansas.

The award was given to the Riley County Board of Commissioners for renovation and rehabilitation of the old Post Office, formerly known as the Federal Building. The old post office was acquired by the North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging, a private, non-profit group, in April 1998. Riley County will administer the project. Support for the project came from officials in the 18 counties served by NC-FH AAA.

The Post Office building also will serve as the central office for the North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging, which now rents quarters at 437 Houston Street. Administrative offices for the Flint Hills Breadbasket, which distributes available foods to the poor and hungry in 13 counties of North East Kansas, will also be relocated there. The federal building was erected in 1909.

Monty Wedel, Riley County planner, wrote the grant proposal and Charles Bissey, consulting structural engineer, prepared the preliminary engineering/architectural report, a grant requirement. The application scored second in a field of 40 applicants with scoring based on urgency, need and benefits to low-to-moderate income people in this area, according to Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing officials.

Engineers and architects have recommended that an elevator and additional floor space be added so the Agency can offer space to partnering agencies, creating a "single-site" location for agencies that serve homeless people. Total cost of renovations is estimated at $624,527. Renovation and rehabilitation of the building is scheduled to begin by December 2001 and end by December 2002, said Julie Govert Walter, NC-FH AAA executive director.

A first-phase renovation grant of $215,000 from the 2001 Veterans Affairs-Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill was announced by Rep. Jim Ryun last October. So far, organizations on aging in three counties-Saline, Clay, and Chase-have contributed $12,300 to the project. The Riley County Board of Commissioners will provide an estimated $20,000-25,000 in administrative services for the project.

The NC-FH AAA provides services to the aging in Chase, Clay, Cloud, Dickinson, Ellsworth, Geary, Jewell, Lincoln, Lyon, Marion, Mitchell, Morris, Ottawa, Pottawatomie, Republic, Riley, Saline and Wabaunsee counties. More than 40 persons are employed at the Manhattan headquarters.

"Anytime we can co-locate agencies that complement each other, that’s great," said Shirley Bramhall, director of the Flint Hills Breadbasket, located at 905 Yuma Street in Manhattan.

"It’s like the Dillons thing with one-stop shopping for lots of things," she said.

NC-FH AAA’s housing program provides rental subsidies to low-income renters who live primarily in rural areas, channels dollars needed to modify and/or rehabilitate homes for qualified low-income homeowners, supplies information and makes referrals to individuals in need of housing assistance.

The NC-FH AAA currently rents space for its administrative offices-4,800 square feet-at a cost of $30,000 annually. The old federal building has nearly 21,000 square feet, about half of which is now usable office space.