Bridge shelter could get new, two-story building

Thursday, March 30, 2017 8:11 PM
A line forms outside the Bridge Shelter, waiting for it to open for the night. Plans call for a two-story building with a seasonal shelter on the first floor and temporary housing on the second.

About two months after learning that their current location was up for sale, the leaders of the Bridge Emergency Shelter now have a plan for a new building.

According to a press release sent out on Monday, the shelter’s board of directors has discussed their situation with members of the Department of Local Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and decided to build a new location on a piece of land that was deeded to them by The Recovery Center. Previously they had considered modifying an existing building or buying back the Justice Center, but decided this option would be the most effective. Early plans for the new building call for a two-story structure covering less than 10,000 square feet, with a seasonal shelter on the first floor and temporary housing on the second.

The Bridge will be located on a 90,000-square-foot lot near the intersection of Empire and Park streets, south of the site where the new Justice Center is being built. Laurie Knutson, the shelter’s executive director, said she expects construction to cost about $2 million, which the board of directors hope can be covered by state and federal grants, loans and local capital campaigns. But they need to clear several obstacles before construction can begin.

“Right now we’re waiting the deed to come in the mail,” Knutson said.

They’re also waiting for a possible DOLA Division of Housing grant, for which they plan to submit an application by May 1.

Knutson said she couldn’t give any details about when construction on the new location might begin or how much money she expects to receive from the state, but she did say the new plan for the building will be more effective than the current Bridge.

“We are confident that we will end up in a building that will be an asset to this area and will also help those who need affordable housing, not necessarily a shelter,” Monday’s news release said.

While the new shelter would have fewer beds than the current one, Knutson hopes that will just encourage more people to take advantage of the transitional housing on the top floor. Priority would be given to elderly people and those who do not struggle with long-term substance abuse.

“We have this crazy dynamic where we have so many elderly people nationwide, and affordable senior housing is almost nonexistent in this area,” Knutson said.

Residents in the housing part of the shelter would pay a percentage of their income to stay in small apartments year-round, which Bridge leaders hope would help offset some of their operating costs. But the shelter on the first floor would function as normal, serving anyone who came in regardless of age or condition.

But all that could be years away, Knutson said.

“It’s not like we’re going to put a shovel in the ground tomorrow,” she said.