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Lowell officials confident in success of the acre working cities challenge grant

By Grant Welker, gwelker@lowellsun.com

UPDATED:   04/20/2016 10:14:00 AM EDT

LOWELL -- A group of city officials and various agencies have been meeting each week over several months to solidify a plan for helping residents of The Acre find sustainable jobs and move out of subsidized housing, and for children to be adequately prepared for school.

The Acre, among the poorest areas of the city, is in need of help.

The neighborhood -- roughly between City Hall, North Common, the Merrimack Canal and Father Morissette Boulevard -- has a poverty rate that is four times higher than the state, according to data compiled by the city. About one-fourth of adults have not received a high school diploma.

Of the nearly 1,600 households in the neighborhood, more than 1,100 are subsidized.

Many children growing up in The Acre are unprepared for kindergarten when they enter school, those planning the new aid program have found.

"They're just not ready," Connie Martin, a member of the School Committee, said Tuesday, "and there's a good deal of time spent catching up."

City officials are confident they'll find out in June that they'll be awarded a $475,000 grant from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to help conduct the program. Those funds will be matched by $95,000 from agencies and private businesses in the city.

Lowell is one of about 10 cities competing in the Working Cities Challenge program, with three or four expected to receive funding.

Those involved in the Lowell application say they are confident because of the broad range of agencies and officials supporting the plan. A meeting on Tuesday included City Manager Kevin Murphy, City Councilors Corey Belanger and Bill Samaras, and state Sen. Eileen Donoghue, among others.

The Coalition for a Better Acre, Jeanne D'Arc Credit Union, Lowell Community Health Center, the Lowell Plan and others have been involved in Lowell's planning process. Those involved say The Acre is especially important because of its location between downtown and UMass Lowell.

Residents will have a last chance to give input in a meeting scheduled for the Senior Center on April 27 at 6 p.m. Lowell's application will be submitted by May 5.

The Federal Reserve grant, which will be spread out over three years, would allow Lowell to hire a full-time director to oversee the program. The plan would include providing families with early-education programs and career training, and attracting businesses to open in the neighborhood.

The city received a $15,000 grant from the Fed last fall to help with the planning process.

Follow Grant Welker on Twitter and Tout @SunGrantWelker.

Read more: http://www.lowellsun.com/news/ci_29789790/lowell-officials-confident-success-acre-grant#ixzz46qsujMRa