A new report estimates that it could cost about $185,000 to finish work on the overdue teen Escape Center and that the city might have some grounds to renegotiate its lease and find new uses for space that will soon be vacated by a senior center.
Work on the teen center, which was supposed to open a year and a half ago, halted back in February after the project ran out of funds. (Read more about that here.) The Harp administration asked the Board of Alders for $200,000 in capital funding for the fiscal 2017-2018 budget that begins July 1 to finish the job.
The report was authored by City Engineer Giovanni Zinn, who was brought in to reevaluate the plans for the center, after it was discovered that the teen center was over budget, but not nearly close to being finished and ready to open. An estimated $350,000 to $400,000 has been spent on the building which is located at 645 Orchard St. and owned by Bethel AME Church.
The building is currently home to the Dixwell Senior Center, which occupies about 3,000 square feet and is leased from the church under one lease; the rest of the building is being leased separately for the future teen center. The senior center is expected to vacate the building when the new Q House is up and running some time in late 2018, early 2019.
According to Zinn’s report, the city has undertaken the following repairs since it began leasing the building:
• Created detailed plans of existing building.
• Roof repairs.
• HVAC unit replacement.
• Sheetrock installation.
• Construction of new partitions and storage areas.
• Demolition of drop ceilings.
• New carpet and flooring.
• Other demolition.
Zinn noted in the report that much of the work on the center, which will provide a place for New Haven teens to drop-in and also a 15-bed homeless shelter for young men 17-24, was performed by teens through the Youth at Work Program.
“While a considerable amount of work has been completed, there is significant work that needs to be done in order to return the building to a functional state,” Zinn wrote. “Various other contractors were engaged as well, and the previous project team reports that the HVAC scope, in particular, grew significantly in size and cost.”
Zinn said in his report that the remaining tasks involve mostly electrical and fire safety work along with some carpentry and general building work. That work has to take place in what will be two large community spaces — the ballroom and the drop-in center — so that the building can be opened to the public. He wrote that the basement and the third floor of the building would remain unoccupied because an elevator would be necessary to access those spaces. He said that work, using contractors in the city’s Small Contractor Development program, could be completed in about two to three months.
“While the cost of the work is hard to very accurately pin down until contracts are awarded, it is anticipated that the remaining work in the current phase has a budget of approximately $140,000,” he wrote. “With a 20 percent contingency, plus $25,000 allotment for fixtures, furnishings, and equipment, this brings the anticipated budget to $185,000.”
He concluded that completing the remaining work would be sufficient to get the building open and allow for public use, but he cautioned that to fulfill the Youth Department’s programmatic vision for the space, it does not represent all of the improvements the building needs.
“However, the completed space would be sufficient to support a significant amount programming, and if budget allows would also support the establishment of the 15-bed facility for homeless youth,” he wrote. He also suggested that the city evaluate and clarify the responsibilities it has as the lessee for utilities at the site and other responsibilities related to the upkeep of the building.
“There may be an opportunity to renegotiate the terms of the leases to more equitably reflect the uses of the building,” he wrote. “Finally, a future option could possibly be finding complementary uses for the building that would expand the community service mission of the current programmatic plan while increasing the diversity of funding sources to sustain the operation of the building. In approximately 2-3 years, the senior center will be vacating the building to move into the new Q House, and the resultant space can be re-programmed to house symbiotic activities. While specific programmatic ideas are beyond the scope of this report, this diversification of the use of the building could bring in both additional operational revenue and also create new funding streams for future capital needs of the building.”
City Youth Director Jason Bartlett said that he is expecting work to restart on the center once the new budget kicks in on July 1. He said the content of Zinn’s report was no surprise to him.
“I’m just looking forward to having the money to get them done,” he said. But Bartlett was cautious on when the center might open. He said it will depend on when the remaining work is bid.
“Once we get started again ... we can talk about a completion date,” he said.