Pallet Shelter Village for those experiencing homelessness delayed 6 months; city hopes to have it open before cold weather

photo by: Douglas County

The property at 256 N. Michigan Street, which is the former site of Veritas Christian School, is pictured on the Douglas County Property Viewer.

This story was updated at 9:39 p.m. on Friday, June 2, 2023.

Due to delays in several components of the project, the construction of a temporary shelter site the city plans to open on North Michigan Street has been delayed by approximately six months, with the city now hoping to open the site before cold weather moves in.

Initially, the city anticipated the Pallet Shelter Village — comprised of prefabricated 64-sqaure-foot cabins and other support structures — would open this month. Now, citing multiple factors, the city anticipates opening the Pallet Shelter Village in approximately six months, “this fall before the winter temperatures hit,” according to a memo to the Lawrence City Commission. The update is included on the commission’s meeting agenda for Tuesday.

However, the memo states the city’s project team is committed to the successful construction and operation of the Pallet Shelter Village, citing a critical need for non-congregate shelter capacity.

“The Shelter Village will support individuals’ recovery from homelessness through service coordination and the provision of stable, safe shelter that improves their chances of accessing housing,” the memo states.

In March, the commission approved spending $1.11 million to purchase the shelter structures from the company Pallet and $725,000 to purchase a property at 256 North Michigan St. to serve as the location of the Pallet Shelter Village. Unlike a city-managed campsite currently operating in North Lawrence, the city plans to hire an outside agency to provide 24/7 management of the Pallet Shelter Village, which the city anticipates being in place three to five years.

The memo outlines five components that are delaying the project’s timeline: the demolition of the existing modular buildings on the site; the bid to provide fencing for the site; site analysis and planning for cabin construction; the delivery and assembly of the cabins; and the contract for the outside agency that will operate the Pallet Shelter Village. More information about each of those components, according to the memo and past Journal-World reporting, is as follows.

The demolition of the existing modular buildings on the site: As the Journal-World recently reported, because of the site’s proximity to a historic structure, the demolition of the modular buildings on the site had to undergo a historic review. City staff and the Historic Resources Commission are recommending approval of the demolition. The memo states city staff is completing the remaining pre-demolition utility work and securing an on-call contractor to complete that part of the project and anticipate the demolition will be completed within the next three to four weeks, or around the end of June.

The bid to provide fencing for the site: The city advertised a Request for Quotes (RFQ) for fencing for the site that was closed on May 16 after no bids were received. Staff updated the RFQ documents and scope of work and re-advertised the RFQ on May 18. The modified RFQ closes June 6, and if the city is successful in obtaining bids, staff estimates the fencing installation could be completed within one to two months, or by the end of July.

Site analysis and planning for cabin construction: The city has hired Professional Engineering Consultants (PEC) to conduct a site analysis and provide planning for the infrastructure and improvements required for the project. The analysis and planning is needed to ensure all grading and below and above ground infrastructure on the site are properly constructed. The time required for the site analysis and planning is approximately 8-10 weeks. The city will be prepared to engage one of its on-call excavation contractors to begin construction as quickly as possible once the site analysis and planning is complete. The city anticipates the site could be ready for installation of the cabins by the end of October, “barring any unforeseeable complications.”

The delivery and assembly of the cabins: The city’s contract with Pallet currently sets the delivery date for the cabins for mid-July. City staff is working with Pallet to update the delivery and installation date once the requirements and timeline for site preparation becomes clearer. Pallet’s build team requires approximately one to two weeks for cabin setup following the delivery of the cabins. The memo states that at this point, the city anticipates the site being ready for cabin installation in late October or early November, pending site analysis, planning and infrastructure construction.

The contract for the outside agency that will operate the site: The city recently extended the deadline for its Request for Proposals for an outside agency to operate the Pallet Shelter Village until June 6. As the Journal-World reported in March, the Pinkney Neighborhood Association, the Woodcreek Townhomes and Woodcreek Condos; and nearby Children’s Learning Center all expressed various concerns about the city’s plans. The memo states that with input from stakeholders and neighborhood groups, staff will work closely with the selected contractor to develop an operational plan. Once the plan is developed, the program details will be better understood and the city anticipates “the majority of questions and concerns about the shelter will be addressed.” City staff anticipates selecting an operator by mid-July.

Once an operator is selected, the city and the agency will begin meeting to clarify and negotiate details of the operations contract. The memo states that the contract is expected to be complex, and it may take several weeks to reach agreement on the final scope of work and contract terms. Part of the negotiation process will include discussions and planning for the coordination of social services with potential partner agencies and stakeholders. City staff hopes to bring a contract to the City Commission by late August, pending successful negotiation, operational planning and planning for coordination with service providers.

The Journal-World submitted additional questions to the city, including questions about costs and whether the city-managed campsite in North Lawrence will continue operating until the Pallet Shelter Village opens. Specifically, the newspaper asked about the cost of the contract with Professional Engineering Consultants and whether there is an update regarding the cost of other components of the project. City spokesperson Laura McCabe said while some costs are still dependent on the outcome of bids, the costs that are known will be added to the memo as an update before Tuesday’s meeting.

McCabe did not give a specific timeframe for the continued operation of the North Lawrence site, but said the current plan is for the site to remain open “as long as it remains reasonable to do so.”

“We evaluate its cumulative value on a regular basis taking into account various factors, to include fiscal responsibility, the population it serves, and the entire population we serve as stewards for the city,” McCabe said via email.

The update is part of the city manager’s report portion of the commission’s meeting and commissioners aren’t being asked to take any vote or specific action on the matter. The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


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