Lawrence City Commission to consider spending $1.84 million to purchase land, small cabins for homeless shelter project
photo by: City of Lawrence/Pallet
Story updated at 4:17 p.m. Friday, March 17:
Lawrence city leaders will soon consider three approvals with a total value of $1.84 million related to the city’s recently announced plans to purchase the site of a former private school along North Michigan Street to house a village of temporary shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider a $725,000 contract to purchase the property at 256 North Michigan St.; waiving the city’s bid requirements for the $1.11 million purchase of the shelter structures; and temporarily suspending enforcement of city zoning and other codes to allow the temporary shelters.
City officials announced Wednesday afternoon that city commissioners would be asked to approve the purchase of the 3.5-acre property at 256 N. Michigan St., which is the former site of Veritas Christian School. The city intends to demolish the buildings currently on the site and use the property to locate the temporary shelters and various support facilities. The project will feature small pre-fabricated shelters, which include heating and cooling and can be erected quickly to provide private shelter for people experiencing homelessness.
The city said the village will include facilities for restrooms, laundry, showers and community gathering, and office space for providers of supportive services. The city will be utilizing the two bathroom/shower trailers and the laundry trailer it previously purchased with pandemic aid at the site. Residents will be provided full social services and the site will be supported 24/7 with on-site staff. The city expects to use the shelter village for three to five years while other housing options, including transitional, supportive and affordable housing, are being developed in the community.
Further information about each of the three actions the commission will consider, according to city staff memos, is as follows:
•The commission will consider purchasing the property at 256 North Michigan St. for $725,000 plus the city’s share of closing costs, which are not specified. Maureen Brady, a spokesperson for the city, previously told the Journal-World that the city plans to demolish all buildings currently on the property, and that the remaining concrete pads could be used to support the Pallet Shelter village. Closing on the property is set to occur within 30 days following execution of the contract, unless the parties agree otherwise to an earlier or later closing date. The city has deposited $10,000 in earnest money, which would be returned to the city if the commission does not approve the sale.
photo by: Douglas County
•The commission will consider a $1.11 million contract to purchase, deliver and install as many as 75 temporary shelters, or “cabins,” from the company Pallet, which is based in Washington state. The insulated cabins are 64 square feet and cost $9,995 each. The additional costs of a heating unit, air conditioning unit, folding bunk bed and custom-fit mattress for each cabin brings the total costs per cabin to $12,341.
The commission will receive a presentation from Pallet and consider waiving the city’s requirements to solicit multiple bids for the purchase. The city is recommending the commission approve the contract with Pallet based on several factors. The city states Pallet was selected based on staff research and in-person exposure to the product and services. Staff notes the cabins offer patented shelter design with rapid construction; climate controlled units with heat and air conditioning; “community dignity” standards for all Pallet villages; public education and project planning assistance; access to provider networks; peer networking and consultation for other communities utilizing Pallet villages; and timeliness of delivery and installation to meet the city’s project metrics. The city is requesting to purchase no more than 75 cabins at this time, and is hoping to finalize the number within the next few days.
The memo states that the city originally planned to put the project out for bids, but that due to differences in climate and location, the cabins included in the bid were ultimately not the same product that was needed in Lawrence. Specifically, the city states the cabins were for the Pacific Northwest area and did not require the amount of insulation and weather-safety aspects needed for Lawrence’s climate. Staff is requesting the bidding requirements be waived based on those factors.
•The commission will consider adopting a resolution to temporarily suspend enforcement of its land development code, international building code and international fire code to allow for the shelter village. The memo states this form of temporary sheltering was only recently developed, and the shelters could not be envisioned or anticipated by current codes. If approved, the suspension of the codes would last for one calendar year. The commission would then be able to evaluate the current conditions and consider allowing the resolution to expire, or ask for a new resolution to be created to allow the continuation of the shelter village. The memo states that prior to occupancy, city staff will inspect the site to ensure fire safety and all necessary utility connections are properly in place, and that an emergency operations plan will be developed.
The land and the shelters will be paid for using federal pandemic aid. In December, city commissioners set aside $4.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to cover the Pallet village and other efforts to address homelessness. That allocation included funding for the Pallet shelters, land acquisition or lease, and other emergency sheltering efforts. City officials have previously estimated that they will be able to open the Pallet village by June. Once the Pallet village opens, the city has said it plans to close a city-managed campsite in North Lawrence where people experiencing homelessness have been living in tents since October 2022.
The Journal-World asked the city whether there is an estimate regarding the operating costs for the Pallet village, specifically when it comes to staffing, utilities or any other significant operational costs. Laura McCabe, interim spokesperson for the city, said it’s too early in the process to estimate a total cost and ensure accuracy.
“We are still in the negotiation stages and would not want to negatively impact that process,” McCabe said via email.
The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.