Micah’s Mission gets major upgrade

The ground-breaking for Churches United’s long-awaited Silver Linings Apartments could take place by the end of the year, pending approval of revised plans and financing by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

Thanks to a major infusion of cash from the Minnesota Department of Human Services’ Office of Economic Opportunity, Micah’s Mission – the homeless shelter in downtown Moorhead operated by Churches United – is on its way to top-to-bottom renovations.

Expected to total almost $5 million, the renovation plan will bring the 70-year-old former furniture store up to the modern standards. From the heating and air conditioning system to a total replacement of drafty windows dating back all the way to the time of Plunkett’s Furniture, the project will finally bring the retrofitted big-box store up to par.

“Some of the changes will be obvious,” executive director Rev. Sue Koesterman points out. The largest may be the total fit-up of the now-unusable basement into much-needed space for both mission and management. Eight new family rooms and three bathrooms are being added downstairs, along with an additional laundry. Some offices will also make the move, including finance and development as well as case management.

The dark, poorly heated area will be fitted with light wells to provide not only brightness but safe exits in case of emergency. “When we’re done, it won’t be like a cave,” Koesterman quips.

Upstairs, windows and doors are also getting attention. They’ll be replaced with energy efficient installations far beyond what was possible in the 1950s. All lighting upstairs will be switched from unpleasant fluorescent fixtures to LEDs in a move the director credits with cost savings as well as improved quality of life. Electrical outlets will be added to catch up with today’s power-using habits. A computer lab is also planned.

Less visible from the ground will be a new roof. Rooftop HVAC units will be added as part of a plan to even out the heating and cooling zones. “I don’t think that back in 2002 when we moved in, anyone really thought we’d actually use all this space,” she notes. “Some areas are always cold, and others always hot.”

She adds, “Like virtually every facility of our kind, we have used this building for something it was never intended for. This is our chance to make it fit our needs.”

Koesterman says that receiving the state funds was “almost a miracle.”

“We got word that the state had $17 million when they put out a request for proposals late last year,” she says. “With professional help from Artekta, MBN Mechanical Engineering and Liberty Engineering, we submitted a package for remodeling the building.

“Typically, you get perhaps half of what you ask for. To our everlasting delight, we were awarded every cent we asked for. That never happens!”

Along with the state funding, the cost of repairs has been supported by an $150,000 grant from the ELCA’s Big Dreams Foundation; $75,000 by longtime supporter Otto Bremer Trust; and $175,000 from the city of Moorhead’s Community Development Block Grant.

The maximum number who can be housed in Micah’s Mission, she says, is 112. “We usually have 105 to 110 guests, though this summer it’s been about 85 in the regular dorm units,” she reports. When the number of guests overflows those rooms, some may sleep in the community center, worship center or family lounge.

There’s more good news for Churches United. The Dorothy Day Food Pantries have seen overwhelming demand; during March through June of this year, the number seeking food help has increased almost 100% over last year’s totals. But thanks to another Minnesota grant, this one rooted in American Rescue Plan, its Moorhead pantry will be getting three semis of food items over the next three weeks.

Where to put them? A crew of volunteers from the Amazon warehouse in Fargo stepped up at just the right moment, Koesterman says, to rearrange warehouse space for the new provisions. “They have been unbelievably timely,” she smiles. “Just the right skill set at just the right time.”

Meanwhile, the Silver Linings Apartment proposal is coming closer and closer to fruition. After four years of planning, it may be within a few months of approval by Minnesota Housing’s Mortgage Credit Company. “If so, we could be breaking ground in November,” she hints.

Silver Linings will be built next to the Bright Sky Apartments on Third Avenue North just east of 34th Street. Planned is a 36-unit apartment building to offer permanent housing for formerly homeless people 55 and older. The supported housing facility will include its own food pantry, a community room, nursing and case management offices, laundry facilities and 24-hour coverage of the front desk.

If approval is received this fall, it will culminate a three-year process used to develop the 80-page submission (“workbook”) for the Minnesota agency. Costs have been going up. Some are covered by a $150,000 appropriation from Clay County and another $200,000 from Moorhead, both drawn from federal ARPA funds.

But there’s still a gap. What began as a $7 million project now comes closer to $8.5 million. “Everything has gone up for us, as for everyone else,” Koesterman reports. “Cost of materials, cost of labor – we’ve had another $1.1 million to cover.” She credits “value engineering” for trimming costs on nonessential elements. “Now we’ve submitted it all,” she says, “and we’re hoping Minnesota Housing will fill the remaining gap.” She and her board are hoping that the agency increases allocations to complete projects it has already awarded, like Silver Linings, before any new ones are considered.

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