Construction is finally underway, after a two-year permitting and legal battle, to convert the Glory Hall’s former downtown homeless shelter into seven affordable housing units and other space, with officials hoping to have the building ready for occupancy by next May.
Work on the building at 247 S. Franklin St. started at the beginning of November, said Glory Hall Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk in an interview Monday. She said construction had to wait until after the cruise ship season ended to avoid disruptions by the crew along the street, but working through snowstorms and other perils of winter shouldn’t be a problem.
“All of the work that’s going to happen is interior work,” she said. “And so that’s why it’s totally fine to do it in the winter.”
The project, originally proposed in October 2021, sought to change the interior shelter space that included several dormitories able to accommodate a total of 50 people, several shared bathrooms and a communal kitchen. The new residences will be two-person apartments that each have kitchen and bathroom facilities.
The prolonged permitting battle occurred as the City and Borough of Juneau’s Community Development Department repeatedly challenged actions by the Juneau Planning Commission to advance the project, citing municipal code which states construction projects in avalanche and landslide hazard zones can’t increase occupational density.
However, in the fall of 2022, the planning commission unanimously approved a conditional use permit for the building following a meeting where more than two dozen residents spoke in favor of the project. The commission argued the project reduces density by decreasing the 50-person capacity of the shelter to the 14 people in the apartments.
One problem due to the delay is the projected $1.4 million cost of the project has increased about 20%, Lovishchuk said. She said much of the funding came from various national, state and local grants — including a $300,000 grant from the Rasmuson Foundation — plus assistance from local individuals, businesses and entities such as churches.
The work is being done by Carver Construction LLC, with a crew of about four people on average, said Eric Carver, owner of the company he founded in 1984. He said despite the long delay in construction and the inactivity in the building, the conversion appears to be a straightforward job.
“Structurally it’s in great shape,” he said. “And so it’s just a matter of gutting it to upgrade the mechanical and electrical, and for the conversion into the seven efficiency apartments. It’s going to be a mixed-use downstairs, it’s going to eventually be some type of a commercial operation, but that’s it hasn’t been solidified yet.”
A price spike due to the COVID-19 pandemic — including an initial period where “we went through a pricing period that was really insane” — and subsequent inflation that has been a lingering issue resulted in a higher bid from the company to do the work, Carver said.
“Every month or two months or six months really makes an impact,” he said.
Among the biggest challenges is ordering an electrical service panel, which instead of a typical four- to six-week wait time is closer to ten times that, a residual supply chain problem from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A shortage of housing — particularly affordable housing — has been among the city’s foremost issues in recent years and Lovishchuk said she could fill the vacancies in the new building many times over when the conversion is complete. She said the Glory Hall will select tenants through an application process using people with experience working in the Forget-Me-Not Manor program that seeks to provide permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness and other struggles.
Carver, whose company has done other nearby projects including modernizing the nearly century-old AEL&P building — as well as being the primary builder of the Glory Hall’s new shelter near Juneau International Airport — said the conversion of the former shelter is an ideal use for the building.
“I’m excited about that development downtown,” he said. “We need more of these types of projects.”
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 957-2306.