Is Dual Use Doable?
Seniors Petition Against Shelter Across From MSACThis fall, Montpelier resident Ron Merkin presented a petition to the City Council signed by 70 people, many but not all from the Montpelier Senior Activity Center across the street, objecting to placing a homeless shelter in the existing recreation building on Barre Street. The petition complained about homeless people making noise, smoking marijuana, and leaving paraphernalia in the parklet in front of the Senior Center. Merkin told the Council some people signing the petition said they were doing so because of the recent shooting at a school bus from a homeless camping area, while others mentioned the earlier knife attack on a volunteer at the Transit Center homeless shelter. At a meeting about the issue last summer covered by The Bridge (“Seniors Petition Against Montpelier’s Rec Center Homeless Shelter Plans,” July 7, 2023), Merkin said “there’s been no effort at all by the politicians or by the organization that recommended the Rec Center to come over here and talk with us at least, and see what we’re feeling about it.” The city has leased space to Good Samaritan Haven in its building at the Country Club Road property to provide emergency overnight shelter this winter for up to 15 individuals, but Fraser said at the Council meeting that homelessness advocates as well as the state would like to see Montpelier create a permanent, year-round shelter. Parker Advisors, a local consulting firm, produced a homelessness assessment and action plan review for the city of Montpelier last March. It identified the Barre Street Rec Center as a potential “temporary shelter in inclement weather” and a “base for the city-supported street outreach workers.” If funding allows for it in the future, Parker Advisors recommended the city “build over time a one-stop location that will increase access to services and provide a focal point for Montpelier’s efforts at addressing homelessness.” The $1.5 million grant possibility Fraser announced at the Council meeting would come from Efficiency Vermont and would involve upgrading the HVAC and electrical system and possibly the bathrooms, he said. He said the state has other grant money specifically available to create permanent shelters for the unhoused that Montpelier could tap for additional work on the building. Previous discussion of using the shelter had focused on putting beds in the gym at night and moving the beds out during the day, and that was one of the possibilities studied by gbA. But at the meeting, Fraser said his staff has been investigating, at the suggestion of Councilor Cary Brown, the possibility of placing the shelter in the lower level/basement and allowing recreation programs to continue upstairs. The basement, which once housed a pistol shooting range and did not get any water in it during the flood, is unused other than for storage. It has windows and would apparently be large enough to be used as a shelter. Such a plan might require further building analysis, Fraser said. The gbA report on the building that was presented to the Council was designed as an overall evaluation of the building “with an eye towards determining whether the building has value, is salvageable, and if so, offering some possible concepts for how the building might be used,” the report said. The basement concept was not included, because that idea just came up recently.
In Good Shape … for its AgeStructurally, the building is in “good shape for its age,” architect Bachman told the Council, and the structural deficiencies could be fixed at a cost of $265,000. But the building’s systems “have not been updated for decades,” he said. His report said the boiler is in fair-to-poor condition, some radiators have failed, and plumbing systems are considered poor. Improving and replacing these systems would cost $325,000 to $550,000. All the electrical wiring and lighting should be replaced, and a fire alarm system, smoke detectors, and security cameras should be added, the report said. This work would cost $140,000 to $565,000, depending on the performance level selected. The building contains asbestos and has lead in the old shooting range, but Bachman said most old buildings have issues like this and mitigation would not be a “show-stopper.” The gbA study looked at three possible new uses. One was providing public restrooms in the lower level, accessible from a ramp adjacent to the main stairs. These would be open to all members of the public. The cost for this would be $646,250. The second concept was using the building as a dual-use facility, with a nighttime overflow shelter for up to 24 unhoused individuals, using the gym for sleeping quarters. An elevator and sprinkler would be needed and accessible bathrooms with showers would be added on the main level. The cost estimate for this was $2,043,580. The third concept was to discontinue use of the building as a rec center and offer the building to a developer to build housing. If the units were small micro apartments of 500 square feet, another level was added to the gym areas, and the lower level was used, 24 units could be built, the report said. The cost would be $8,965,000. At the meeting, Fraser noted that if the basement was used as a shelter, the number of small housing units that would be built would drop to 16. These could be used as transitional units for unhoused people or as affordable housing, he said. But that could likely occur only if and when a new recreation center is built. The gbA report stated: “There are many other potential uses for the building and we are in no way recommending any of the three concepts mentioned above — these were developed purely to show that the building can accommodate change and be put to better use than it currently is.” While the report did not examine updating the Rec Center and keeping its use for recreation only, the city did pay for a 2019 study that examined just that. Bread Loaf architects of Middlebury estimated the costs to create more usable space and put the building in compliance with federal accessibility laws ranged from $3.9 to $4.7 million, according to reporting in The Bridge dated Nov. 26, 2019 (“Council Weighs Rec Center Estimates,” by Tom Brown). Then-Assistant City Manager Cameron Niedermayer was quoted in the article saying the city would pursue other sources of funding for the project, such as federal grants or corporate partnerships, before setting a bond vote. Not long after that, the pandemic began. A bond vote never happened and the homelessness problem mushroomed.
Stories about Homelessness
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- A Perfect Storm: Homelessness in Central Vermont
- Overflow Shelter May Happen in Montpelier After All
- Solving Homelessness
- Homelessness Task Force Advances Encampment Policy
- City Creates Policy Addressing Homeless Encampments on Public Property
- Twin City Motel to Become Homeless Shelter
- UPDATE: Officials Rally to Save Overflow Homeless Shelter
- Homeless in a Housing Shortage
- Local Orgs Prep for 30% Increase in Homeless Population
- Homeless Exodus Expected by End of May
- Berlin Tries to Curb Impacts of Influx of Unhoused Individuals
- Learning from Burlington: Could Pods Serve Montpelier’s Unhoused Residents?
- Motel Exodus Begins
- People Plead with Legislators to Aid Homeless Motel Evictees
- BOR Ice Arena Homeless Shelter Plans Cool Down
- Seniors Petition Against Montpelier’s Rec Center Homeless Shelter Plans
- Police Investigate School Bus Shooting; City Clears Encampment From Which Shots Were Allegedly Fired
- Confirmed: School Bus Gunshot Came from Encampment
- Building Connections for Homeless Education in Barre
- City Council Seeks Funds to Add Homeless Shelter to Barre Street Rec Center