It’s hard to find a window at Crisis Ministries’ current building on Meeting Street, but that’s all about to change for this 27-year-old nonprofit. On Oct. 18, Crisis Ministries will break ground on a new energy-effecient facility.

Like the majority of shelters around the nation, Crisis Ministries operates out of a donated warehouse space, transformed to house a commercial kitchen, group bathrooms, and a medical clinic. “Every space is multipurpose and not necessarily in a good way,” explains CEO Stacey Denaux. “This building was old to begin with, and it’s been heavily used. It’s sort of worn itself out.”

The nonprofit began to study whether their building could be renovated in 2007, but found that they’d lose a lot of usable space in the already cramped shelter. The facilities committee then launched into “OK, now what?” mode, says Denaux, and the result was the accumulation of land along Walnut Street adjacent to the current facility.

That was easier said than done. Most of the 13 tiny parcels Crisis Ministries had to acquire were heirs’ property, and tracking down the owners was a difficult task. Taking a leap of faith, they commenced working on design plans with architect Eddie Bello (of McMillan/Pazdan/Smith) and local environmental consultant GreenBy3 before all the land had been acquired. “It’s amazing that they put together this much property in downtown Charleston,” Bello says.

With all the pieces falling into place, Crisis Ministries is poised to double their usable space, growing from the current facility’s 14,000 square feet to 28,000 by spring 2013. The expansion allows for an increase from 14 to 40 veteran-specific beds, and maintains the current number of 70 beds for non-veteran men. The adjacent, recently renovated 40-person Family Center for women and children remains unchanged.

What’s most exciting about the new building, however, is its dramatic difference in living environment. The building now features a landscaped atrium and courtyard, including covered areas to gather in when it rains, something that’s lacking at the current facility. And whereas the medical clinic’s waiting room in the current building is windowless and claustrophobic, the glass walls of the new building will allow light to permeate everywhere. Vaulted ceilings frame the entrance from Meeting Street, and LED lighting will keep costs down and improve ambiance.

“You don’t often see homeless shelters built from the ground up,” says Denaux. “They’re typically an old warehouse, cobbled together, and rarely ever designed to support the work that goes on. This will be one of the few in the country built to serve the purpose.”

Charleston has a few peers with state-of-the-art soup kitchens, including Austin, Texas, home of the first LEED-certified shelter. “The assumption has been that a nonprofit couldn’t afford to do this, and now I think it’s getting to the point that a nonprofit can’t afford not to,” says Denaux, who has already done away with disposable plates and cups in the existing dining room. “The ongoing savings over time will make us a much better steward of donor money.”

Features at the new building include a rain water collection system used for irrigation and possibly as gray water for toilets, a high efficiency cooling and heating system, and careful consideration of window and awning placements to maximize heat in the winter and cooling in the summer.

“I am excited about all the new things that are being offered here,” says current resident and veteran Richard Ulrich. “The greenery will contribute to a positive place leading to a positive future.”

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