Urban Ministries buildings in line for renovations

Nov. 09, 2013 @ 01:50 AM

Urban Ministries of Durham leaders hope to launch about a $350,000 renovation of the building that houses the nonprofit’s Community Café and food pantry around the start of the new year.
The project had to wait during the economic downturn while the group concentrated on serving clients, said Bob Walker, a venture-capital executive who serves on Urban Ministries’ board of directors.
“Now, with support, we’re able to bring this building up,” Walker said.
The improvements start with the replacement and relocation of an existing walk-in cooler in the café’s kitchen, and the replacement of a building-wide heating and cooling unit.
Both existing units are original to the 30-year-old structure, a former church gymnasium off Liberty Street on the eastern edge of downtown.
Workers will upgrade and expand the building’s bathrooms, adding stalls and making them more accessible to the disabled, said Walker and Urban Ministries Director of Marketing and Development Bryan Gilmer.
The plan also includes the addition of cubicle space for social workers who more and more are providing counseling and aid to clients of Urban Ministries’ adjoining homeless shelter.
The building’s lobby will be reworked, and the kitchen will receive a new service entrance.
And the plan calls for an upgrade to the landscaping around the building, in line with the general “upswing” of downtown’s east end and to make it “suitable to the dignified environment we want to provide to clients,” Gilmer said.
Urban Ministries has raised capital for the project from a variety of sources.
The largest single chunk of money came via a $143,000 grant from the Stewards Fund, a nonprofit based in Raleigh.
Durham’s city and county governments are each contributing $65,000. And Urban Ministries turned to “individual and business donors” for another $65,000, Gilmer said.
DTW Architects & Planners, a Gregson Street firm that designed renovations of the Durham Arts Council and Durham County Stadium, is helping Urban Ministries with the project.
“They’ve been incredibly helpful in this process,” said Walker, the chief operating officer of 8 Rivers Capital. “We will be paying them, but I am confident they are doing a lot more than they are charging us for.”
Also lending a hand is Dan Jewell, a landscape architect and partner in Main Street-based Coulter Jewell Thames P.A.
County officials say their government’s $65,000 contribution to the project supplements the $164,440 in annual operating subsidies they provide Urban Ministries.
Separately, the county is also likely to spend another $375,000 on work to the building that houses the homeless shelter, which in fiscal 2012-13 housed 999 people.
The shelter building is county-owned and needs a fire sprinkler system, both for reasons of safety and to enable Urban Ministries to secure additional subsidies from the federal Veterans Administration.
VA officials condition shelter contracts on a building’s compliance with fire codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Urban Ministries Executive Director Patrice Nelson briefed County Commissioners this month on the two projects and some of the group’s other initiatives.
She stressed that it’s trying to help clients find permanent housing, rather than just giving them a temporary place to stay.
In fiscal 2012-13, its efforts were a factor in helping 245 shelter clients move into permanent housing, she said.
Gilmer said most moved into a market-rate apartment, paid for “from their own wages they earn in a job.”
“The statistics are just absolutely staggering of the outcomes [that happen] if we can provide things like social work and other programmatic support for people, other than a place to stay,” he added. “We can actually move them out of homelessness.”