MILLEDGEVILLE -- The first time a city representative knocked on Mary Alice Samuels’ door to talk about a grant that could rebuild Samuels’ home, Samuels didn’t pay much attention.
“The lady approached me the first of last year, but I didn’t really understand what she was saying, so I didn’t fill out the papers,” Samuels said.
The city’s message to residents on and around Grimes Avenue was about a federal Community Development Block Grant of $413,918 awarded to Milledgeville through the state’s Department of Community Affairs. The city planned to use the money to rebuild or refurbish homes along the block as well as demolish vacant, dilapidated houses in the neighborhood.
Samuels, 62, who has lived in her Grimes Avenue house since 1990, is on disability and couldn’t afford to make any repairs after her husband died in 2000.
“(The house) was falling in,” she said. “The rain would fall in. I couldn’t use my bathtub, because the pipes were broken. ... I wanted to be able to fix it up, but I couldn’t.”
A few months later, the city representative came around again, but this time Samuels filled out the paperwork that allowed the city to completely rebuild her three-bedroom, two-bathroom house over a three-month period.
After moving in with her daughter while a construction crew worked on the house, Samuels returned to a renovated house this past July.
“I think I was rushing them, because I saw it was beautiful and I wanted to be able to get back in,” she said. “They put in ceiling fans, they gave me a beautiful dining room. I just love it.”
Samuels’ home is one of three on Grimes Avenue the city is rebuilding, Milledgeville’s Human Resources Director Mervin Graham said. In addition, Milledgeville is rehabbing a fourth house on the street, Graham said, as well as a nearby house on North Jefferson Street and another on North Elbert Street. The rehab work likely will be finished later in the year, she said.
The city also plans to buy an abandoned mobile home park and completely clear it out, Graham said.
Mayor Richard Bentley said the area needed improvements and qualified for the grant money, which is used for low-to-moderate income areas.
“It’s a particular area that needed some assistance and redevelopment,” he said. “It’s good for the community as a whole as well as the residents of the neighborhood.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the neighborhood redo is that the city, in conjunction with the grant money for home repairs, is using special purpose local option sales tax money to work on infrastructure improvements such as storm drains, curbs and gutters.
“People are pleased with it,’ Graham said.
Brian Williamson, the Department of Community Affairs’ assistant commissioner for community development, said it’s becoming more common across the state for cities to work on SPLOST projects in conjunction with block-grant projects.
“The department encourages leverage,” he said. “Many times, these grants require matching funds. Oftentimes, you see the SPLOST money used in certain ... redevelopment projects.”
City Engineer Mark Patrick said the SPLOST money -- about $45,000 -- came from the previous sales tax, not the one that was approved by voters this summer. He said city workers first noticed drainage issues while working on the house at 214 Grimes Ave.
“There were fairly significant drainage problems on Grimes,” Patrick said. “The existing pipes were 20 or 25 years old and some of them had collapsed. Water was not able to transmit down Grimes. It was collecting in the back of (the house at) 214. The pipe needed to be rebuilt.”
Patrick said the infrastructure work took about a month and is close to being finished.
“I don’t know if anyone knew how bad (the decay) was,” he said. “The workers saw bad problems. A big chunk of pipe had decayed.”
Patrick said it could have taken up to five years for residents to be affected if no work was done, “but the correct thing to do was to do it now. The new pipes should last 30 to 50 years.”
Bentley said the infrastructure work protects the city’s investment in the neighborhood.
“It just made sense,” he said. “We were doing some work to the residences, and we already had the SPLOST money set aside.”
Betty Hightower, 68, a retired nurse from Central State Hospital, lives in one of the houses scheduled to be refurbished. She knows the work will begin at some point, but the city hasn’t told her when. Seeing the work done to her neighbors’ homes, however, has her anxiously anticipating construction.
“It’s gotten me very excited,” she said. “I’m waiting to know when they can start. (The other houses) are beautiful compared to what they were before. Everyone whose house has been done feels very good about it.”
Hightower said her home needs a new roof and flooring, and it has several other issues.
“I’m grateful and thankful (the city) is able to do this,” she said. “I’m not able to do this. I’m anxious for them to get started.”
Bentley said once the current grant ends, the city intends to apply for a new one to help rebuild other Milledgeville neighborhoods.
“We’re always looking for particular projects that the grants can cover,” he said. “The money is not as readily available as it has been in the past. We’re going to apply and get what we can.”