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Jeremy Ratliff
Reporter

Monday morning, Merrill Housing Authority (MHA) director Paul Russell announced plans to expand the current parking area at Jenny Towers as well as adding green space to the 37-year-old facility.
As Russell explains, the expansion comes on the heels of resident surveys conducted in March.
“Shortly after I took over as director we reached out to our residents in March to assess what sort of changes or improvements we could make to better their overall experience here at Jenny Towers,” he said. “Their overwhelming response was more parking and green space.
“Due to the design of Jenny Tower and the surrounding area, it’s pretty much concrete and asphalt around here. The nearest green space really is the River Bend Trail, so it didn’t come as a complete surprise when we learned of a strong desire from residents to have green space for leisure and recreation.”

The answer to Jenny Towers residents’ needs could be in place as early as next year, Russell adds. Plans call for the current maintenance and cold storage facility to the west of Jenny Towers to be leveled as well as the 1986 addition to former Merrill Fire Station No.1, which was used as office space.
The station and apparatus bay were purchased by the MHA from the city in the spring of 2015 for $350,000, following the construction of the new fire station on Pier Street.
The former apparatus bay attached to the station house will also be leveled and instead will be replaced in part by lawn, shrubbery, trees and picnic tables for resident use. The addition of a new gazebo is also planned.

An additional 21 parking stalls will be added and covered by canopies along with current parking areas. In addition, the current First Street entry/exit will be removed and replaced with additional parking and green area.
While the office space addition and apparatus bays will be removed, the original station house will remain intact and serve as the maintenance and cold storage facility for Jenny Towers. The first floor is planned for a maintenance area complete with a vehicle lift, while the second level will be used for storage.
“By closing off First Street access, we are eliminating another resident concern which has been traffic flow. Having two access points in a rather small area has been problematic for us at times with bus and resident traffic,” Russell said. “Flow should be a lot smoother now once these changes are made.”
Due to still being early in the planning stages, cost figures have yet to be narrowed down, but Russell estimates total cost to be in the neighborhood of $1 million which will be paid for by unrestricted Housing Authority funds, comprised of Federal and state Housing and Urban Development (HUD) operating funding.
“This project will come at zero cost to the city or tax payers. These funds are strictly for Housing Authority use,” Russell adds.