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Funds for Vinton Braille school redevelopment approved

The Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton is seen Jan. 2. The city of Vinton is working with Hobart Historic Re
The Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton is seen Jan. 2. The city of Vinton is working with Hobart Historic Restoration on a plan to redevelop the site’s historic buildings into residential and commercial space. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Vinton’s application for $2 million in state funds to aid in the redevelopment of the 162-year-old Braille school campus has been approved.

The Benton County community of about 5,200 is working with a private developer on a plan for commercial development and housing on the 48-acre campus on the west side of town. The project could exceed $40 million of public and private funds, according to City Administrator Chris Ward.

Vinton’s application for the $2 million — to be evenly split between demolition and rehabilitation of buildings on the campus — was approved by the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Vinton was the only local government to apply for the funds made available by the 2019 Iowa Legislature. The money is contingent upon completion of the transfer of ownership from the state Board of Regents to Vinton.

That’s on the City Council agenda for Thursday, Ward said. The council also plans to finalize its agreement with Hobart Historic Restoration, the developer with which it is working.

The Legislature made the money available as part of an effort to dispose of vacant and unused state property. The money is intended to be used by local governments and private entities to spur developments that would generate economic activity, job creation and property taxes.

In the case of the Braille school, which includes nearly 200,000 gross square feet of building space, the regents have spent millions of dollars on upkeep and maintenance expenses. The cost continued to mount even after the residential program at the school closed in 2011.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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