Madison officials want to take a close look at renovating an aging city building for a Downtown men’s homeless shelter.
Mayor Paul Soglin and six City Council members on Tuesday proposed the city spend $64,000 to hire an architect to see if the city’s Fairchild Building, 120 S. Fairchild St., has potential to hold an overnight shelter for homeless men. The council will decide whether to hire the firm at a later date.
Currently, Porchlight Inc. offers night shelter to single homeless men at Grace Episcopal Church on Capitol Square with overflow space at St. John’s Lutheran Church on East Washington Avenue and First United Methodist Church on Wisconsin Avenue.
Soglin and other sponsors want the city to hire Engberg Anderson Architects, which has offices in Madison, to do a building assessment, space programming, conceptual designs and cost estimates for a men’s shelter at the Fairchild Building, a three-story, 43,340-square-foot structure built in the late 1920s now used for storage and parking.
The sponsors want the architect to come up with two or three development options for the structure to be presented at a public meeting early next year.
The city aims to study the Fairchild Building for a combination or reasons, community development director Jim O’Keefe said.
The building is in an advanced state of disrepair and it’s time to analyze its potential. Meanwhile, the existing shelter situation is inadequate, and part of the Grace Episcopal Church block may be redeveloped in a way that requires discontinuing the main men’s shelter in coming years.
It’s too early to say if a shelter could work at the Fairchild Building and too early to say if the city would commit to that use, O’Keefe said. “This is sort of a look-see,” he said. “Is it viable?”
Hovde Properties, which owns property on the Grace Episcopal Church block, approached the city some time ago to see if there were options to move the existing shelter, and a developer would likely be involved in financing renovations of the Fairchild Building for it, O’Keefe said. A shelter would require only about half of the space on the building’s third floor, which is directly accessible from Fairchild Street, he said.
Porchlight executive director Steve Schooler welcomed the analysis. “I’m hopeful we can make this work, but it’s going to cost a lot of money,” he said.
The nonprofit has located its main shelter at Grace Episcopal since 1986, but it and the overflow facilities weren’t designed for the use, Schooler said.
“These are three church basements,” he said. “They’re not designed to be shelters.”
During winter months, Porchlight serves an average of 160 to 180 men per night. Guests get two hot meals per day, personal grooming supplies, laundry facilities and counseling. There is a 90-day limit for the drop-in shelter per year, but exceptions are made for extreme weather.
The Fairchild Building offers a practical location and chance to consolidate shelter services and make operations more efficient, Schooler said, adding, “We think it has tremendous potential.”
Former Ald. Brenda Konkel, an advocate for the homeless, said the building would be “great” for a men’s shelter. But she said it should have a greater capacity to eliminate stay limits, space for a “wet shelter” for those who’ve been drinking, and be part of a mixed-use project that includes housing for people who work but can’t get landlords to rent to them.
“If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right,” she said.
The potential reuse of at least part of the Fairchild Building emerged publicly this summer when the city and county considered its potential for a day resource center for the homeless, as well as a night shelter for homeless men or a wet shelter. It was determined the building could be used for a day center or men’s night shelter, but not both.
By fall, the county shifted attention for a day resource center to the former Messner Inc. property at 1326 E. Washington Ave. The county is buying that building but must still secure a conditional use permit from the city to create the resource center.