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Lincoln Grant Building to Become Residential with Support Services

The long dormant Lincoln Grant building, first used as Covington's all-black high school during segregation, will be brought to life as a Scholar House residential and support center.

The city commission unanimously approved plans by Louisville-based Marian Development Group on Tuesday that include forty-five apartment units. Of the two and three bedroom living spaces, twenty-seven will be built within the current structure and eighteen will be part of a new construction project.

"The thing that is most important is that in the end, we're developing new taxpayers," said Jake Brown, a principal with Marian Development Group. He said the Scholar House program offers people going through " a tough time" in life, another chance. "The building will be beautiful, I promise you that."

The City acquired the Lincoln Grant School in 2011 and in June of this year issued a request for a development partner to create a Scholar House program at the site.

Scholar House is a housing and education initiative that allows the head of a household to reach self-sufficiency, freeing themselves of public assistance (including housing).

Participants must be at least eighteen years old, eligible for a Hosuing Choice Voucher, and be full-time students in a degree or specialty institution of higher learning. First priority is given to single parents and the layout of the units is geared toward supporting families.

Those in the program get counseling, attend workshops, and receive support from neighbors and staff while pursuing their training or education full-time.

Scholar House includes on-site child-care.

Scholar House also offers programs that involve enhanced health maintenance, parenting skills, management of family resources, nutritional knowledge, problem solving, work skills and job search techniques. Most of these services are free; Housing and childcare are based on the participant’s income.

Once residents have graduated from Scholar House, they are allowed ample time to find and move into permanent housing, according to the program's website.

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In Covington, the program will be operated through the developer's partnership with the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission.

"We knew it would be a good partnership, an opportunity to bring something unique to Covington and preserve a historically important building that if we don't do somethign with it quickly, it will be gone," said Florence Tandy, executive director of NKCAC.

The Scholar House at Lincoln Grant is only NKCAC's second partnership with a for-profit entity. Tandy said the program will work closely with Gateway Community & Technical College which is in the process of developing a sprawling urban campus in Downtown Covington. "The timing of Gateway's urban campus, it could not be more serendipitious," she said.

There was a second proposal for development of the Lincoln Grant building from Miller Valentine Group, which has offices in Cincinnati & Dayton, Ohio as well as South Carolina. But those residential development plans would be on hold until 2015. There is a limited time frame in which the developers can pursue needed historic tax credits for the project which gave the edge to Marian.

"I think this is our window of opportunity, this round of tax credits," Tandy said. Even waiting till the next city commission meeting would have thrown the project into 2014, she said.

The city commission voted unanimously to approve the development. "I'm particularly taken with the idea of restoring an institution of higher learning and restoring it to the purpose it was dedicated to," said City Commissioner Steve Frank.

"Florence, with your involvement and Marian's experience, how could I not vote yes?," said City Commissioner Mildred Rains.

City Commissioners Michelle Williams and Chuck Eilerman also voted in favor and asked that special attention be paid to retaining or replacing the basketball courts used by Eastside kids. Randolph Park, which is adjacent to Lincoln Grant, is poised for a makeover soon, too.

Mayor Sherry Carran said she was torn between the two proposals but decided that this was the time for Scholar House. "I feel good about this," she said.

The new project will also have benefits for the greater community, Jake Brown said. The theater inside the former school will remain and could be used by community groups and possibly theater troupes. Computer lab access will also be made available.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: Lincoln Grant School/provided