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SBJ Editor Eric Olson interviews Amy Blansit about The Fairbanks and the Northwest Project.
SBJ photo by Wes Hamilton
SBJ Editor Eric Olson interviews Amy Blansit about The Fairbanks and the Northwest Project.

Fairbanks to undergo remediation, expand with new funding

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The Fairbanks, the hub for the Northwest Project, will undergo remediation and expansion work with the help of new funding.

Amy Blansit, owner of the former school at 1126 N. Broadway Ave., spoke about the building that’s central to poverty elimination efforts as Springfield Business Journal’s May 15 guest for the 12 People You Need to Know live interview series.

Blansit also serves as director for the Northwest Project, which recently wrapped up its second year in operation.

The initiative designed to assist Springfieldians living in poverty is funded by a $1.3 million, five-year grant via Community Foundation of the Ozarks, the Musgrave Foundation and the Stanley and Elaine Ball Foundation, as well as $205,000 from the Healthy Homes Initiative, a $200,000 federal Community Development Block Grant and a $200,000 brownfields grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Funding may be coming from as far as Canada, where a company is considering investing $200,000 into The Fairbanks and Northwest Project initiatives, she said. Great Southern Bank also is a financial partner.

“That’s really what it takes in order to change many years of neglect and putting stuff under the rug,” Blansit said. “The community came around a building.”

Like the community the Northwest Project is designed to serve, The Fairbanks itself needs assistance.

The Fairbanks was built in 1906 and served as a public school for the next century. It remained vacant — and was subject to building deterioration and vandalism — before Blansit and Drew Lewis purchased it in 2013. Lewis, Blansit’s late husband, is the namesake behind the Drew Lewis Foundation she runs.

Blansit said The Fairbanks recently put bids out to remove lead and asbestos present in the building.

“We will basically be buttoning up the building. No one can go in for about a month,” she said.

Olivia Hough, brownfields coordinator and senior planner for the city of Springfield, said cleanup work likely would be completed this fall.

“The Brownfields Committee found this cleanup to be beneficial to the community in many ways by preserving a historic school, adding capital investment to the neighborhood and supporting the programs that are helping folks in northwest Springfield,” Hough said via email, after the 12 People breakfast.

Blansit said the remediation work will be followed by a planned expansion of The Fairbanks.

She said the Northwest Project and its partners currently are “crammed into 10,000 square feet.”

Up next are plans to move into the building’s remaining 15,000 square feet.

“Each of those companies that are squished into a very small space will be able to expand,” Blansit said, referring to church groups, a bicycle shop and others. “We’ll really be expanding what we do.”

She recently told SBJ an official completion date hasn’t been determined, but she hopes for a six-month turnaround. 

Last month, the Northwest Project released its annual report detailing its successes.

Among the findings, the report found:
    •    total debt reduction with the 33 currently active participant households is $313,954;
    •    employment rates for participants have doubled;
    •    average income for participants has increased by about $450 a month per household; and
    •    credit scores of participants have increased by an average of 20 points – with one individual’s score increasing by 100 points.

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