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$400,000 will open doors to new family facility in Austin

By Tim Ruzek

Post-Bulletin, Austin MN

A $400,000 federal grant will help the new family visitation and exchange center in Austin train staff and operate for a few years.

Local leaders with the project got official word Friday morning that the three-year grant will be heading their way.

"This is one piece of the puzzle," said Kathy Stutzman, leader for the Mower County Visitation Center Planning Consortium.

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It will "open the door" to the facility for domestic-violence victims and their families, she said. Starting Oct. 1, the grant will be used in the first six months for training and policy development, Stutzman said.

In April, six staff members are expected to be hired for the facility, which could increase to 11, she said. Transportation, games and snacks for families also will be funded by the grant.

The group can apply for a five-year, federal continuation grant for the center.

The new facility, named the Michael H. Seibel Family Visitation and Exchange Center, aims to serve and protect troubled families in Mower County. It will offer a safe, supervised setting for custodial and noncustodial parents to interact with their children.

Last week, the group named the facility after Seibel, a former Mower County judge who died of cancer at age 49 in 2000.

After holding meetings for more than a year, the consortium on Tuesday got approval for a $200,000 grant from the Mower County Board to help acquire and rebuild the one-level, L-shaped section of the former Downtown Motel at First Street and First Avenue Southeast, across from the U.S. Post Office.

Overall, the $719,000 project will involve about 2,600 square feet of new construction to be added to the former motel building. The L-shaped building will become more of a box, renovating nearly 2,000 square feet of existing space.

Work is expected to start in October with demolition of part of the building. Construction likely will begin in November and be done by July 2008.

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