Jail could be used for YMCA homeless program
JEFF ECKHOFF ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¢ [email protected]
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¢ July 30, 2008
A controversial housing facility for down-on-their-luck men appears headed to move from the Riverfront YMCA in Des Moines to Polk County's interim jail.
Polk supervisors are expected to vote next week on a plan would give the interim jail to the YMCA in exchange for a ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œnominalÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â lease, possibly $1 a year. The deal would become final only if YMCA officials are able to raise the more than $6 million needed to revamp the building into a new dormitory.
Plans unveiled this morning call for the middle of the soon-to-be-emptied jail building to be demolished to create a center courtyard surrounded by 140 rooms. Work would be paid for without any county money, although Polk taxpayers would be asked to accept only a minimal value for a building thatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s been assessed at $815,000.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThis appears to me to be a reasonable use,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Supervisor Robert Brownell told colleagues today. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s not a perfect solution. ... (But) thereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s a sense of urgency with this particular housing population, because the Y that houses these people is going to come down.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
YMCA board members have worked for roughly a year to move the agencyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s 188-room residence downtown away from pending development of the Des Moines riverwalk. The current 50-year-old facility has been named as a possible site for new street-level retail shops and a new hotel.
Plans for a 120-bed transitional housing facility in the Fairground Neighborhood were dropped last fall after residents voiced fears of higher crime and lower property values if the project were built near their homes.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œIt has become a political approval problem,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â said architect and YMCA board member Daryl Metzger. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œFinding a place where we can get approval is the biggest problem.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
Financing for the renovation likely will include both a local fund-raising drive and money from the U.S. VeteranÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Administration, which reportedly believes there is an under-served population of homeless veterans in Des Moines, Brownell said. The veterans organization, which currently controls 25 beds at the YMCA, would double that in exchange for providing a construction grant.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œIt wouldnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t do the whole deal, but it would help,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Brownell said.
A recent study by Polk County staffers determined that the interim jail, scheduled to be emptied along with Polk CountyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s main lock-up when a new jail opens in November, also would make sense as a possible home for the Polk County AttorneyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Office or for a records unit of the court clerkÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s office. Both of those offices are now occupy rented spaces that cost the county $232,200 and $228,939 annually.
However, renovating the jail for the County AttorneyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s office would cost more than $5.3 million, administrators estimate. That means it would be decades before such a switch paid for itself.
Supervisor Angela Connolly said she intends to vote for moving ahead on the proposal.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI think I can get there on this only because I think thereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s a real need for transitional housing, and IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢m concerned about what will happy if we donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t step up and deal with this,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Connolly said.
Supervisor Tom Hockensmith said the notion requires more study.
Polk officials have worked for years to get the county out of leased offices, Hockensmith said: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t know what kind of message that sends to taxpayers if weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢re going to go ahead and start giving buildings away.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â