Niagara Gazette

August 25, 2013

Isaiah 61 fired up about latest Falls project

By Justin Sondel justin.sondel@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A vacant fire hall owned by the city may be getting some new tenants.

The Isaiah 61 Project, a not-for-profit that renovates vacant homes while providing job training to unemployed and underemployed residents, is hoping to refurbish the Highland Avenue fire hall into a jobs training facility and warehouse with the help of a state grant.

The city’s Community Development department — a partner agency — has submitted a $132,000 grant application as part of Empire State Development’s Consolidated Funding Application process.

Community Development Director Seth Piccirillo said the relatively low funding request and the quick turnaround for the project — the renovation could be accomplished in one construction cycle — make it a a strong candidate.

“If you have a targeted project that completes the work quickly but doesn’t have a huge price tag you are more likely to be awarded the grant,” he said.

Community Development plans to seek U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money and funding from the city’s casino revenue budget funds to help pay for the renovation, which will strengthen the application, Piccirillo said.

The city was awarded a $450,000 grant through the same process last year and that application was successful because the city leveraged other investments to get the award.

“I feel like this is a strong application and it has a good chance of getting funded,” Piccirillo said.

The historic fire hall has been in and out of use for more than 15 years and has fallen into disrepair with broken windows and boarded up doorways.

With the help of a state grant, the city could rid itself of a liability, see a neighborhood asset restored and provide jobs and training for people seeking work, Piccirillo said.

Jim Haid, the project manager at the not-for-profit, said the renovated fire hall would provide some much-needed space for his organization.

If the grant is awarded, Haid hopes to triple the amount of instructors — they are supplied by Orleans Niagara BOCES, the amount of students enrolled and the amount of project houses.

“Our program is expanding so we’ve outgrown the space that we have,” he said.

The program currently is run out of the basement of a church on 22nd Street.

The church hall is not set up to handle power tool demonstrations in addition to being too small. The fire hall would provide an ideal space to create a workshop type of classroom.

“It would be more conducive to running a class than a church hall that was meant for other things,” Haid said.

Plans include office space and a workshop on the first floor and space for a re-use center, modeled on similar programs in Buffalo, where housing parts salvaged from houses before they are demolished would be resold to the public.

Haid said the city and other partners have been essential in the initial success and expansion of the program.

“We’re just thrilled to death that the city is working with us to help grow the program,” he said.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257