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Associated Press, Published March 17 2013

Fort Snelling buildings to become veterans housing

FORT SNELLING, Minn. – After decades of neglect, five old brick buildings at Fort Snelling that saw service from the Spanish-American War through World War II will be renovated into apartments for homeless veterans and their families.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ plans call for creating 58 affordable apartments, the Star Tribune reported Sunday. Construction is expected to start this summer and finish by summer 2014.

The Fort Snelling plan is part of a larger effort by the VA to end veteran homelessness and reduce its inventory of vacant and underused properties. The VA plans to provide more than 3,000 units of permanent and transitional housing for veterans at 25 VA Medical Center campuses nationwide, and another 1,000 units are pending or under way.

The structures on what’s known as Fort Snelling’s Upper Post include cavernous Building 210, the old quartermaster stables, where horses for cavalry officers were kept. They also include Building 211, with its high beams and wide doors where grease-stained GIs toiled fixing tanks during World War II.

“It’s a perfect fit,” said Andrew Michaelson, project manager for the nonprofit that will run the development. “To put homeless vets in a place like this, with its military history, it’s a hand-in-glove fit.”

The $15 million project will cover 6 acres west of Highway 55 adjacent to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The land and buildings won’t be sold but will be managed by St. Paul-based CommonBond. Three-quarters of the cost will be paid for from private investments leveraged through housing and historic tax credits.

Veteran with anything other than dishonorable discharges will be able to apply for housing. The buildings won’t be homeless shelters, but permanent housing. Multibedroom units are expected to appeal to veterans with families and the growing number of female homeless veterans with children.

Fort Snelling was officially decommissioned as an active-duty military post in 1946, but reserve units and federal agencies still maintain a presence there. Some of the buildings were used up until the early 1980s for storage by the nearby VA Medical Center. The Boy Scouts turned one building into an activities center.

With many windows boarded up, and the paint on trims blistered by weather and neglect, the buildings up for rehab show their age. But most remain structurally sound.

“The brick and even the roofing for its age, as an engineer, I’m impressed with how well it’s held up,” said Steve Challeen, chief engineer of the Minneapolis VA.