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$1.2M grant to improve Newsoms

Grant funding has been approved that holds the potential of bringing notably improved living conditions to the Town of Newsoms.

Southampton County Administrator Michael W. Johnson noted that Gov. Ralph Northam announced Feb. 11 the approval of grant funding that will help move forward the Newsoms Housing and Drainage Improvement Project.

“The source of funding for that is coming through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development in the form of a Community Development Block Grant,” Johnson said.

The grant is for more than $1.2 million.

“What the project will include is the rehabilitation of seven houses, substantial reconstruction of two additional houses, demolition of one blighted structure and then major improvements to the storm drainage system throughout the Thomaston Road neighborhood and the Town of Newsoms,” Johnson said.

Newsoms Mayor Vanless D. Worrell expressed his excitement for what the incoming funding will do for the town, both now and in the future.

“It’s going to have a tremendous impact on our population — those that are here and those that might decide to move here,” he said.

Worrell said the drainage problem in the town has been a serious issue for a long time that has affected homeowners and tenants, with water standing in the streets and in people’s homes at times.

He noted that efforts to fix the problem actually started more than 20 years ago when his late wife made a presentation addressing the issue.

With different forms of progress made since then, Worrell praised Southampton County for its role in that progress within the last year.

“When the county got involved, things have been just like water flowing downhill — it kept moving,” he said. “That was a big plus when the county stepped in.”

Johnson spread the praise around, saying there were a number of people involved, including county staff, volunteers in the town, the mayor and some of the Town Council members.

“We had engaged the services of a professional planning group that helped us put the grant application together, and their services were paid for jointly by both the town and the county,” Johnson said.

Summit Engineers did a lot of the planning work, Johnson said, and Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project (SERCAP) also played a significant role.

“SERCAP’s role in this is they went in and helped evaluate all the houses in that community to determine which ones were in need of rehabilitation, which ones were in need of substantial reconstruction, and then they also identified that one blighted structure that’s to be removed,” Johnson said.

After holding a public hearing on the project, the Southampton County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Sept. 22, 2020, to adopt a resolution directing county staff to submit the grant funding application.

As for how quickly the grant money will go to work for the people of Newsoms, Johnson said it takes a little while given the way Community Development Block Grants work.

“There’s the phase of the project early on before we actually sign the contract with the Department of Housing and Community Development, they refer to it as their Pre-Contract Activities Phase,” Johnson said. “And we met with the Department of Housing and Community Development back in mid-February, and they put together sort of a punch list of the things that they want us to accomplish and have done prior to the end of this pre-contract phase, which is 120 days, so I think that’s June sometime, and we’re currently working on getting those things together now.

“And once we get all those things together, we’ll be in a position that we’re ready to move forward with it. We’ll sign the contract with the Department of Housing and Community Development and get the project rolling.”