Mission eyes major expansion

January 21, 2013
The view along West Wheeling Street, where the City Mission plans on demolishing five buildings as they expand toward South Main Street in Washington. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Because of poor economic conditions, more and more people are finding it hard, if not impossible, to make their way in the world without some sort of assistance.

And many of those people have sought that help from Washington City Mission. In fact, the mission is finding that its client base has grown so much that it’s eyeing a major expansion that, when completed, would consume nearly two city blocks on West Wheeling Street in Washington. The multi-phase project is estimated to cost more than $10 million.

“We’re simply out of space,” said Dean Gartland, mission president and chief executive officer.

For 71 years, the mission has been reaching out to the area’s homeless and needy. In 1963, the mission obtained a church building at 84 W. Wheeling St., where it headquartered its efforts, offering meals and overnight housing to those in need. The mission’s offerings have also included educational opportunities and medical clinics.

The mission operated mainly on contributions until opening its recycling center and string of thrift stores that now provide a steady stream of revenue by converting donated items into cash.

As the mission grew, so did its client base, and in recent times, the number of those in need has exceeded any expectations.

For example, Gartland pointed out that the mission served 75 homeless veterans in 2012 and had to turn away 55 women who sought shelter in December alone.

Jerry Oxford, director of Hope Enterprise, said that in November, the mission gave away 110 turkeys, more than it had every done before.

“We’re seeing a complete increase” in all aspects of need, said Oxford. “We have to grow because of what’s happening in our communities.”

About a year ago, the mission hired RSSC Architecture of McMurray to develop a master plan.

“We’ll be asking for general comments,” said architect Jim Roos, who will present the plan Wednesday. “We’re hoping (city officials) will give us some direction.”

The plan calls for the mission acquiring the buildings from its church location eastward to Washington Ambulance and Chair Service. Two of those buildings, including the former Habitat for Humanity site, will be demolished to provide a drive-through drop-off area to a new two-story, 20,000-square-foot recycling/donation center on West Strawberry Avenue.

The building at 62 W. Wheeling will remain intact but will be converted into a facility to serve and house homeless veterans.

“We will then be able to shelter 16 veterans,” said Gartland, who pointed out that the mission could then apply for veterans’ services funding.

This will be the first phase of the project. It is estimated to cost about $3 million, and the mission recently requested $500,000 in Local Share Act funding for the work, he said.

Future phases call for the building of a 100-bed dormitory that will offer separate housing for men and women, and renovation of the current recycling center, located behind the church, for administrative, counseling and Samaritan services.

The plan also calls for converting the church building into a community outreach and education center.

When all the work is completed, the mission will own nearly two blocks of property, beginning at Franklin Street.

“We want to position ourselves for the future, making the mission sustainable for the next 50 years,” said Oxford.

According to Roos, the mission is hoping to begin the project in the fall.

Linda Metz has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2000, covering Washington County courts and politics, as well as the city of Washington. She previously was employed by the Tribune Review. She is a graduate of Point Park College, now a university, in Pittsburgh.

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