City Mission expansion plan clears hurdle

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The City Mission cleared a preliminary hurdle Monday night as officials try to expand the donation and recycling center in Washington.


Washington’s planning commission voted unanimously to give the City Mission conditional approval for its design plans and is now awaiting final approval from City Council.


However, the future of the expansion might still be in question unless the organization can get a zoning variance for the block of land nestled between Jollick Manor and Bible Chapel church on West Wheeling Street.


Bill Speakman, who represented the organization during the planning meeting, said they would have to acquire two buildings and demolish them, but the main campus would remain the same. That would allow for drop-off area to a new two-story, 20,000-square-foot recycling and donation center on West Strawberry Avenue.


They also want to convert another building on West Wheeling into a facility to house up to 16 homeless veterans.


“The idea is to make things more efficient, more attractive and better able to serve the residents,” Speakman said.


Dean Gartland, the City Mission’s president and CEO, said if all goes well, they would like to kick off a major fundraising campaign in the spring. There is no timeline on when construction would begin, but he expects the project to take about four years to complete.


“I think it’s fantastic,” Planning Commission Chairman Gordon McMurray said of the plans. “You guys do a good job. Always have.”


In June, the City Mission received its largest single donation in the past decade when CardConnect and its founder Brian Shanahan gave $200,000 to help the not-for-profit homeless and rehabilitation shelter. The first phase of the project is expected to cost about $3 million, and the entire price tag could reach $10 million.


Besides fundraising, the next step is to work with city code enforcement officers to make sure the plans follow municipal regulations and the layout will give fire trucks adequate room to maneuver in the event of an emergency. It also will come down to whether city council will give the organization a variance for the expansion since its plan does not currently conform to planning codes.


“If they don’t change (the variance), we’ll have to install elevators or escalators,” Speakman said about the need to build vertical instead of spreading out across the parcels.


Washington City Mission has 85 total workers across the county, including 35 to 45 full-time employees, officials said. The organization has been in operation since 1941 and moved to its current location in 1963.


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