Stepping Stone emergency shelter project increases by $1 million

Source of cash to increase bed capacity remains unknown; county said to have received ‘generous funding’

GUELPH – The cost of a Guelph emergency shelter project is increasing to nearly $5 million from the nearly $4 million estimated back in February, when the project was formally announced.

Stepping Stone, a non-profit helping the homeless find housing, owns 23 Gordon Street, where 27 emergency shelter beds are currently available on the main level of the two-storey building.

A planned upgrade is expected to bring an additional 36 emergency shelter beds and transitional housing spaces to downtown Guelph. Wellington County, as social services administrator for both the county and Guelph, will oversee the project.

An additional level is proposed that would allow for 24 new emergency shelter beds and 12 transitional housing units, in addition to the existing beds available there for people over the age of 25.

At a county-Guelph social services committee meeting on March 13, Lloyd Grinham of Grinham Architects gave some background on the project’s increased price.

According to Grinham, work must be started by the end of the month to secure funding – the source of which remains unknown.

The county and city have been working back from the deadline to get planning and zoning approvals sorted by then. Cost estimates went up throughout February as the true scope of the project became better understood.

“The sequence of events that we went through was pretty rapid,” Grinham said last week.

Most expensive on the list is reinforcing the building, which represents about $750,000 of the $1-million increase, according to Grinham.

“We find ourselves in a much more stringent seismic zone,” he explained.

The building is currently considered commercial, but will be converted to residential.

“Two existing floors of the building have to go through a number of code upgrades to comply with change-of-use legislation,” Grinham said.

The building also completely lacks a fire alarm system and sprinklers — both of which will be installed.

Heating and air upgrades, he said, also add “quite a bit” to the cost increase, and are needed because of the second floor design.

Grinham said the plan involves shelter beds that can be used for transitional housing later on if needs change.

Stepping Stone also operates three other locations providing beds and supports for families and individuals.

The committee gave its support for a construction management contract of $4.96 million to Demikon Construction, which was previously awarded a contract for pre-construction services in January.

Realization of the updated “guaranteed maximum price” is subject to a funding plan from the county’s treasury department, expected at this month’s county council meeting.

County councillor Jeff Duncan, who is not a member of the committee but was at the meeting, asked about Stepping Stone contributing to the cost of the work, saying the non-profit, as owners of the Gordon Street building, should have already brought it up to code.

CAO Scott Wilson poked his head forward and gave a single-word response: “Yes.”

“We’re going to be putting our funds into bringing this building fully up to snuff,” Duncan said.

“Is it a stay-tuned situation, or is there no answer?”

Wilson said he doesn’t know if the funding plan will consider a financial contribution from Stepping Stone or not, and the subject was dropped.

Who is behind project funding is apparently embargoed, with the county mum on the money source.

Warden Andy Lennox has previously said the project wouldn’t happen if not for “generous funding the county has received.”