After almost a year of planning, the Bridge Emergency Shelter is close to realizing its plans for a new building with transitional housing.
Executive director Laurie Knutson said the shelter’s leaders have signed a contract with an architect and expect to break ground on the new building this summer. In the meantime, they have until March to raise the last $21,000 of the project’s estimated $2.3 million cost. The new shelter will be at 735 N. Park St., near the new Montezuma County Combined Courts building and the Osprey Packs headquarters.
In January 2017, shelter leaders began considering the possibility of a new location after the Montezuma County Board of Commissioners decided to sell the old justice building, where the Bridge is currently located. That idea has changed over time to include, not just a new emergency shelter, but also several low-cost apartments for people who are working to get out of homelessness.
At a meeting in the second week of January, the shelter’s board of directors signed a contract with RMBA Architects, the Durango-based firm that designed the Osprey Packs headquarters. Knutson said she hopes using the same designers will help the new shelter fit into the surrounding neighborhood.
“I anticipate that we will have, not a fancy building, but a functional building that looks nice,” she said.
Preliminary plans for the new location call for a two-story building with temporary beds and a day labor center on the first floor and one- and two-bedroom apartments on the second floor. The second floor, Knutson said, will provide a housing option that hasn’t been available to the homeless in Montezuma County for a long time.
“The ability for us to move past sheltering and day labor opportunities and to offer transitional housing opportunities is a huge leap for an organization,” Knutson said. “It’s a chance for some of our residents to face some fears and grapple with really succeeding.”
When the transitional apartments open, she said, they will be rented out to people who have visited the shelter regularly in the past and have shown a desire to take more responsibility for their lives, but don’t yet have the money or skills to be completely independent. They will be able to stay there for up to two years while they search for permanent jobs and homes.
Eight people have signed up to request a spot in the new apartments, and Knutson said several others have expressed interest. Shelter staff and volunteers are working to prepare guests for the lifestyle changes that will come with having a more permanent place to stay.
But there is much to do before anyone can move into the new shelter. Knutson said the Department of Local Affairs and the Gates Family Foundation have committed $1.9 million and $80,000 grants, respectively, to pay for the bulk of construction, but the shelter still needs to raise matching funds before the money can be released.
Volunteer coordinator Deb Keel said the shelter’s website will put up a link to a GoFundMe account for the project soon, and fundraisers like the annual Soups of the World community dinner, scheduled for March 4, will also bring in much-needed cash. The Bridge has already been awarded several smaller grants, which allowed it to hire RMBA, and Knutson plans to apply for a few more in the coming months. She and Keel said they’ve consistently received generous donations from the people of Cortez, and they expect to reach their fundraising goal in time.
Environmental and soil tests have already been performed on the lot where the new shelter will be built. Michael Eberspacher, the RMBA architect in charge of the project, said he plans to break ground sometime in July and have the building completed toward the end of February 2019. Construction is estimated to take about eight months.
Keel said the new building will be the latest step in a long-term transformation for the Bridge. When it was established in 2006, the shelter had three small bedrooms and a meal supplied by local churches, and Keel said it often suffered from a “chaotic” atmosphere. Since then, it has expanded its location, adding a day labor center to help guests find work and providing access to mental health care through partnerships with local organizations like the Piñon Project and Axis Health System.
“We’ve moved every year, incrementally, to more independence for our guests, more services provided in the Bridge,” Keel said.
She said she believes the new location will help the nonprofit move forward in that process.
The Bridge currently provides overnight shelter from October through April. In the 2016-2017 season, it served 359 people, and Knutson said it is on track to beat that number this year. A total of 211 people have slept in the shelter so far this winter.