Catholic Charities to convert Helen Hunt campus to transitional housing
Veronica Ambuul
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Catholic Charities to convert Helen Hunt campus to transitional housing

By Veronica Ambuul

COLORADO SPRINGS. Catholic Charities of Central Colorado has purchased the former Helen Hunt Elementary School, located in the Hillside neighborhood of Colorado Springs, and will soon kick off a capital campaign to fund the construction of 24 transitional housing units inside the building.

The units will consist of studio and one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments as well as  common laundry, office and storage areas spread over two stories.

Helen Hunt Elementary was built in 1902, with several later additions and an adjacent one-story school building that opened in 1966. In May 2016, Colorado Springs School District 11 closed the school due to declining enrollment. The property was sold to the Lane Foundation and converted into a nonprofit campus. Since 2017, Catholic Charities has been one of the tenants on the campus, providing support services for low-income families in the neighborhood.

The addition of transitional housing units is simply an extension of the services Catholic Charities is already providing, said President and CEO Andy Barton.

“The impetus for family housing really came from our case managers, who were working with families over a long term — families who were living in their cars, in shelters, or who were moving from hotel room to hotel room,”

Barton said. “What our staff finds, working with them from a period of six months to two years, is that there were all these barriers that they could overcome, but they could not get these families stable due to lack of housing.”

Barton said that Catholic Charities plans to kick off its capital campaign in the first quarter of 2023 and begin construction in early 2024.

“The community needs this housing so desperately, we don’t feel like we have the luxury of waiting around on it,” he said. “We want to get to the completion of this project.”

Colarelli Construction will be the general contractor for the roughly $5.2 million project, he said.

“Vince Colarelli and his team came in early in this process and were a part of determining the possibility of converting a turn-of-the-century school building into housing. They supported us from the get-go,” Barton said.

“We know that there’s asbestos in the floors and ceilings. One of the key moments in this process, with Vince acting as contractor/consultant, was to figure out how or if we could renovate the space while avoiding the mitigation of the asbestos,” Barton said. “What we determined was that, with these big rooms and high ceilings, there’s very little demolition that has to take place — you can build within the space.”

Partners In Housing, a local organization that provides transitional housing for families in crisis, will act as property manager once the units are ready for occupancy, he said.

“The transitional housing model that Partners in Housing uses is tremendously successful; they’ve got a 92 percent success rate for the families who go through their program,” Barton said. “But there are families in the community who are not going to stabilize over the course of 12 months. This gives us one more option for families who might need a little more time.”

One of the main objectives in constructing the housing units is to provide clients with a rental history that they can then take to landlords when they are ready to secure their own housing, Barton said.

“The families will pay 30 percent of their income as their rent. It makes a huge difference when we can talk to a landlord and say, ‘We’ve been working with this family for 18 months, they’ve been paying their rent on time and they’re ready to move into an apartment.’ They’ve got a history that a lot of other people wouldn’t have.”

For more information or to donate to the capital campaign, visit https://www.ccharitiescc.org/huntfamilyhousing/.

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