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Rep. Balint brings $1 million federal grant to Bennington downtown development project

U.S. Congresswoman Becca Balin, right, tours the former Bennington High School with Zak Hale, the lead developer on the project.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Vermont Public
U.S. Congresswoman Becca Balint, right, tours the former Bennington High School with Zak Hale, the lead developer on the project.

U.S. Congresswoman Becca Balint delivered a $1 million federal earmark Friday to a downtown development project in Bennington.

Balint presented the money after touring the former Bennington High School building on Main Street, which developers hope will soon include 39 new apartments, the town’s senior center, a new childcare program and an expanded recreational facility for the town.

Balint spent about an hour walking through the hallways and old classrooms at the former school, which shut down in 2004.

She recognized the work at the local level that has gone into bringing the almost $40 million project forward, and said the federal grant is just one piece of a very complicated funding formula.

“You have to have people at the local level who have the commitment to work through all of the difficulty of trying to bring together so many different funding sources,” Balint said. “You’re not going to be able to find one that is going to be able to foot the bill for all of it.”

The project has been in the works for more than two years after the town voted to invest $2.5 million of its American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, money in the project.

Bennington voters approved the project at town meeting this year, agreeing to sell the current senior center, which will reimburse some of the town's costs related to the new project.

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The town has agreed to lease a part of the redeveloped property for the Bennington Senior Center and the county Meals on Wheels program.

“It’s been vacant for 20 years, and it’s a beautiful building,” said Select Board Chair Jeannie Jenkins during Friday’s tour. “We’ve always been looking for a way to put this back on the tax rolls, and this project does that.”

Developers hope to bring 39 new apartments to the former Bennington High School on Main Street
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Vermont Public
Developers hope to bring 39 new apartments to the former Bennington High School on Main Street.

The project will also bring 39 new apartments to the downtown building, which includes the original high school that was built in 1913 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The building was renovated and expanded in 1939, 1958 and in 1975.

During the tour, Balint said the project made an especially strong case for a federal grant because it addressed housing, childcare, recreation and senior services.

“It’s one of the few bright spots in being able to get Republicans and Democrats to come together at this moment, is understanding that projects like this in communities only happen with some federal investments,” she said. “And so as difficult as it can be to get the wheels of government churning, this is one way that we can show our constituents back home that government can actually do a lot of good in communities.”

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Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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