Grappling for grants

Published 7:25 am Thursday, August 5, 2010

After giving roughly $4.3 million in grants to the Austin community this year, the Hormel Foundation is once again gearing up to divvy out contributions for 2011.

Among those working to get grant funding is the city of Austin, or more specifically, the City Council, which on Monday preliminarily ranked a list of 12 grant requests totaling roughly $420,000.

Last year, the city requested $376,013 across 13 separate grant requests, and ultimately received $336,448.

Email newsletter signup

The 2011 requests run the gamut, from projects that deal with public safety to those that could help beautify Austin. Below is the list of the 12 city projects that will be considered for funding, along with their priority “scores.” Those scores are out of a maximum of 96, as the seven council members plus the mayor rated all the projects on a scale of one to 12, with 12 signifying the highest interest.

1. Smoke detectors and educational material (request via the Austin Fire Department)

Priority score: 83

Grant request: $4,100

This request would provide smoke detectors to approximately 150 families throughout the community. In addition, funding would help provide educational resources to elementary-aged children.

2. Defibrillators for squad cars and city buildings (Austin Police Department)

Priority score: 78

Grant request: $31,759

Funding would help replace 10 older defibrillators currently in use in Austin squad cars. The city would also be able to install 10 units in select city buildings, such as the library and the arenas.

3. Downtown building revitalization (Austin Main Street Project)

Priority score: 72

Grant request: $100,000 in 2011, plus another $100,000 in 2012

To continue with their goal of revitalizing downtown Austin, the Main Street Project is seeking funding for various storefront renovations. The MSP has also started investing money into converting second floors of Main Street businesses into new apartments.

4. Summer reading program (Austin Public Library)

Priority score: 65

Grant request: $8,000

As part on an ongoing summer tradition, the library is looking for money to help fund its summer reading program. The library estimates that the program will cost a total of $15,100 and will reach more than 800 children next summer.

5. Lansing-area sewer project interest abatements (City of Austin)

Priority score: 58

Grant request: $183,775 over five years

This request would allow residents that are receiving the new sewer who would qualify as “low to moderate income” to apply for five-year interest payment waivers. In year one, with a full $15,590 assessment left to be paid, a 5 percent interest rate would equate to $780 due for an area resident.

6. Reduced fees for students at nature center (Jay C. Hormel Nature Center)

Priority score: 49

Grant request: $30,067

With the funding, the nature center would be able to continue to allow classes to come to the center at a cost of $1 per student. In 2009, 129 half-day classes stopped at the nature center, at an average class size of 27 students.

7. Dehumidifier for Riverside Arena (City of Austin)

Priority score: 46

Grant request: $100,000

The new system could allow the arena to extend its ice season — of particular interest to the city because of the addition of the Austin Bruins hockey team this coming fall. Currently, the ice system is only able to operate from early fall to late spring, due to warm, humid conditions in the summer.

8. City GreenStep program (City of Austin)

Priority score: 45

Grant request: $24,000

Money would go toward making Austin a GreenStep city, which is a program run through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. A local GreenStep program coordinator would be hired on a part-time basis to work toward making Austin a “greener” place through various grants and initiatives.

9 (tie). New van for nature center (Jay C. Hormel Nature Center)

Priority score: 34

Grant request: $35,390

The nature center currently has a 13-year-old van used to transport families and children that staff would like to replace. The request is for a new, eight-passenger van.

9 (tie). New signs near Mill Pond (City of Austin)

Priority score: 34

Grant request: $10,000

As part of a forthcoming flood-wall project along North Main Street, the city is requesting funds for new historical signs near the Mill Pond. Signs could provide information such as where the Hormel plant was originally located.

11. Cedar River Dam plaza (City of Austin)

Priority score: 33

Grant request: $25,000

The city would like to use funds to put in historical kiosks, seating and wall repairs in the area of the original mill. If approved, the city would provide an additional $25,000 to the project.

12. Aeration fountains for local ponds (Austin Parks and Recreation Department)

Priority score: 27

Grant request: $9,000

To address stagnant water, the parks and recreation department is looking to install fountains in the Skinner Hill Lagoon, the Todd Park Pond and the Mill Pond. The aeration process adds oxygen to the water, which can break down algae.

Which of these projects gets funding — and how much they receive — is still to be determined by the Hormel Foundation. John Gray, the foundation’s assistant secretary treasurer, said all grant applications are due by Sept. 1. After that, the foundation will mull over all the proposals before approving final allocations on Nov. 16.

Gray said because proposals come from all sectors of the community, it is really hard to say what makes for a “good” grant request. However, he did say that projects should generally make a positive impact on Austin residents.

And the foundation has certainly made a huge positive impact in the last six decades — Gray said the Hormel Foundation has contributed roughly $80 million to the Austin community since the foundation’s inception in 1941.