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Fort Snelling’s Old Buildings Give New Hope To Vets

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The brick mortar is crumbling, wood trim peeling. The glass sashes of the original windows haven’t opened for years. But structurally, five of the 28 buildings on the Upper Post of Fort Snelling are prime for renovation.

“This is a huge initiative that will really help our initiative of ending veteran homelessness,” said Jonelle Draughn.

She is the homeless program coordinator for the Minneapolis Veteran’s Administration.

On any given night across Minnesota, Draughn said, 600 to 700 veterans have no place to call home. So the VA is launching an all-out push to transform the five historic buildings into badly needed veteran’s housing.

In the weathered roughness of the building’s exteriors, Draughn sees a diamond in the making.

“A beautiful place where vets can live their lives and regain dignity and work towards the goals they’ve set forth for themselves,” she said.

The Veteran’s Administration is partnering with the St. Paul based nonprofit, CommonBond. The VA envisions providing at least 58 housing units to needy veterans once CommonBond and its contractor complete renovations on the five structures.

The buildings include two large horse stables dating back to 1907. They will be swept of cobwebs and partitioned into a large number of efficiency apartments. Two nearby officer’s residences will be restored into family housing to serve the needs of homeless veterans and their spouses and children.

“This is a duplex, the one next door is a fourplex, so they will be family style,” said CommonBond’s Andrew Michaelson.

Michaelson said a combination of tax credits and grants will likely generate the necessary $10.2 million to pay for the rehabilitation. The project aims to get final approval on the design and historical preservation aspects by the summer of 2012. Construction would begin within weeks and aims for completion sometime in 2013.

Michaelson calls the project a “win, win, win.” It will preserve a valuable part of Minnesota’s history, while at the same time employing hundreds of construction workers. But most important is the goal to build a place that cares for Minnesota’s most needy vets.

“We’ll be looking at updating furnaces, the air conditioning, windows and certainly roof work,” he said. “Tuck pointing and all those pieces that need to be brought up to a condition that allows them to be inhabited by people.”

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