Early work underway at Chapel Hill homeless shelter

tgrubb@newsobserver.comJuly 29, 2013 

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    For more information or to make a donation, go online to www.ifcweb.org/contribute or call the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service at 919-929-6380. Send checks to: Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, 110 W. Main St., Carrboro, NC 27510.

— A September deadline for spending federal money is laying the groundwork for construction of the new men’s homeless shelter next year at 1315 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

The two-story, 52-bed Community House project is still on track to start next spring, said John Dorward, interim director of the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service. The new shelter will include 17 emergency cots and a free clinic, among other programs. The site will be accessed from the north through the United Church of Chapel Hill parking lot off MLK Boulevard. The church is a longtime IFC supporter.

The shelter could open by early 2015, Dorward said.

In the meantime, construction workers with Triangle Grading and Paving Inc. are leveling the 1.66-acre site for the building and parking lot. They also are installing parts of a stormwater management system. When that’s done, the workers will sow grass to control any erosion. The work should be finished within 90 days, a crew foreman said.

Recent rain and an unexpected amount of rock just below the ground’s surface have caused some delays, he said. The crew had to hammer using large machinery for five days just to lay in 30 feet of 18-inch pipe near the street, he said.

Dorward said they didn’t expect to start the project this early, but U.S. Rep. David Price secured a $250,000 Economic Development Initiative grant for the project, and if they don’t spend it by September, the money returns to the U.S. Treasury. Some grant money paid for planning, he said.

“He worked hard to get it, and we did not want to give it back,” Dorward said.

Additional funding is being raised now through the Campaign for the New Community House. Former Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy and Gordon Merklein, UNC’s executive director of real estate development, are leading that campaign, which has raised $2 million toward the $3.725 million goal.

The IFC, university and Chapel Hill have formed a “wonderful partnership,” Dorward said. UNC is leasing the land to the town at $1 a year for 50 years; the IFC will sublease the land from the town, and develop and operate the shelter.

“We are grateful to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community, which has joined together to support IFC and the new Community House,” Dorward said.

The shelter will help men move from homelessness to independent living, Dorward said. The current Community House, which opened in 1986 at the Old Municipal Building on West Rosemary Street, is showing its age.

The town could sell the building or use it for some future purpose, but there is no deadline for the IFC to leave, Dorward said.

“We promised the town we’re working hard and as fast as we can to make this happen,” he said.

The Town Council approved the Community House plans in 2011 after a contentious public debate about how to screen men using the emergency cots and whether the site’s proximity to parks, homes and day cares is inappropriate.

The town included requirements to help ease those concerns, Dorward said. Regular residents will have to stay sober; those using the emergency cots will be interviewed off-site and required to show a photo ID. The shelter also will follow its current rules, such as locking outside doors between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. each day, using security cameras, pre-approving visitors, not accepting walk-ins and participating in the Neighborhood Watch.

The IFC also worked with an advisory committee to write a Good Neighbor Plan about shelter operations, safety concerns and how to build good community relations. The plan is required before construction starts.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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