Above: A member of the South Hilltop Men’s Group working on phase two renovations at the Millvale Food + Energy Hub. Photo by Christian Nowlin.
Resilient communities are built upon years of trust between residents and the organizations that represent them, so when a threat or opportunity arises, they are able to mobilize and respond swiftly.
When the opportunity came to apply for Federal Community Project Funding, both the Millvale and South Hilltop communities were prime to pursue it.
“For us, I think it was really telling to get that level of support and confidence from local and state governments. The Beltzhoover Institute of Arts & Sciences is something that merits funding, and the reputation that we have accumulated over the years has really paid off,” said Jmar Bey, president of South Hilltop Men’s Group.
With $1 million in federal funding for South Hilltop projects, Bey’s organization along with New Sun Rising will co-develop 600 Beltzhoover Ave., resurrecting it into a hub for revitalization and local jobs while addressing environmental issues. Prior to obtaining the federal grant, the project had raised $381,500 for property acquisition and due diligence, engineering and architecture, and facility stabilization.
“We still had a big funding gap to take the project to completion, and getting this budget appropriation gives us the ability to create the institute the way we envisioned it,” Bey said.
The space will provide equipment, research, and education on urban environmental topics, focusing on green space management, and is located on the same block as the Lots of Pride experimental research garden where various methods for soil remediation are being tested. The building will also feature green infrastructure and sustainable technologies, like solar and a rooftop greenhouse used to incubate plants for the various community gardens.
The second South Hilltop location, 120 Millbridge St., will be renovated to support the creative, maker, and light manufacturing economies. The project envisions doubling as a space for deeper, and more meaningful community engagement. A place where people hone their creative practices while changing perspectives on how they contribute and participate in building community. Both projects were recommended and supported by Congressman Mike Doyle (PA-18) for Community Project Funding.
In Millvale for the borough’s Ecodistrict Clean Energy Initiative, two key sustainable development projects from New Sun Rising (NSR) and Millvale Community Development Corporation (MCDC), both members of the Millvale Ecodistrict Collaborative, received $584,322 in funding thanks to the support of Congressman Conor Lamb (PA-17).
“This is an example of the ecodistrict working at its finest and what it was designed to be, to help strengthen the pillar organizations to better serve the community,”said Jamie Hahn, MCDC vice president. “We’re better together than individually.”
The Millvale Food + Energy Hub, 112 E. Sherman St. and owned by NSR, will be improving its energy efficiency through better insulation, increasing stormwater retention, and expanding solar capacity with more panels, energy storage, and a car charging station.
For the second location, 216 North Ave. and owned by MCDC, they are working with evolveEA and have aspirations for it to be Net Zero with plans to shore up the building’s insulation and install solar panels and a small garden on the rooftop. Hahn said the inside of the building is still evolving, but it will be a community space with some offices for rent and will be accessible to the borough’s youth.
“The development of these two projects and the use of the funds is part of a community driven process based on local stakeholder engagement,” said Scott Wolovich, executive director at NSR. “The MCDC has their monthly meetings where residents and business owners engage around community priorities, and Ecodistrict architect partner evolveEA continues to involve the community in its design process for the building.”
Both South Hilltop and Millvale have received capacity building support and financial investment since 2015 through NSR’s Ignite workshop and Launch community incubator. An initial grant from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation led to developing the Vibrant Communities Framework, an adaptive set of 18 strategies designed to help people both lead and benefit from the future they envision. The catalytic Community Project Funding, collaborations, and infrastructure projects largely represent the Grow phase of this Framework, and are the by-product of dozens of grassroots leaders, nonprofits, local businesses, local, state, and national elected officials collaborating over many years towards sustainable, equitable development goals. .
Including these four project sites, two of NSRs partners also received federal funding: $894,941 went to RiverWise for the Franklin Avenue Park, an Ecodistrict catalytic project that will serve as a public gathering space for the benefit of all residents of Aliquippa and Beaver County; and $500,000 to McKees Rocks CDC to support the remediation and stabilization of a keystone facility in McKees Rocks at the former bank building at 602 Chartiers Ave. When the Community Project Funding opportunity was announced, NSR quickly organized this group of community leaders to support each other and create shared capacity which, along with the Etna Community Organization who has since received funding for the Etna Community Library, came to self-identify as the Rivertown Ecodistrict Alliance of PA (ReAP) during the process.