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Phoenix Tried To Have A Virtual Groundbreaking. Coronavirus Canceled It.

Phoenix Rescue Mission is planning to open the Expanding Hope building by June 2021.

At this time of economic uncertainty, Phoenix Rescue Mission is one of the city’s oldest resources for those in need.

Tracing its roots back to 1952 when the Mission was founded at the current location of Chase Field in downtown Phoenix, it was planning to have a virtual groundbreaking on March 24. But on Tuesday, heeding warnings from local health officials about the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic, Phoenix Rescue Mission executives canceled that plan.

Over 200 invites were originally sent to city officials, media and donors for a traditional groundbreaking ceremony on March 24. Along with canceling the virtual groundbreaking on Tuesday, Phoenix Rescue Mission also had to cancel a fundraising breakfast on March 20 and has converted family outreach events to drive-thru and walk-through community outreach interactions. 

"It was strictly because of health concerns we canceled our first-ever virtual groundbreaking," Phoenix Rescue Mission spokesperson Ryan Brown said. "We were going to do a live stream with 10 people on-site, but because our campus is closed to new intakes we want to minimize the number of people on-site to protect the health of our residents." 

The virtual groundbreaking was going to replace a traditional groundbreaking ceremony for its new Expanding Hope building, located on 35th Avenue and West Durango Street. Adjacent to its Transferring Lives Center, which provides men’s rehabilitation services, it will include a barracks and bunk bed-designed residence across four stories and 45K SF. 

“The new building will take us from 170 beds to 360 beds, with an expanded dining hall and kitchen,” Brown said. “We offer a community-based recovery program with positive peer influences, so we will offer more apartment-style living, with two or four men in a unit to provide continuity, as they may live on-site for as long as one year.”

The first floor of Expanding Hope will feature multipurpose classrooms for both vocational education training and rehabilitation courses, along with staff facilities. Many of the services currently offered at the Transferring Lives Center will move over to the first floor of the Expanding Hope building.

“It was a different experience because we were designing for current facilities and services for the new building,” Cawley Architects President Sherman Cawley said. “We had to design a place that feels like home but still maximize efficiency to support the ultimate life transition.”

The remaining three floors will encompass a total of 90 dorm rooms that are 210 SF each, and each floor will have two large multiple-stall restrooms, shower facilities and a residence lounge.

“Ten years ago, rescue mission work was a hot meal and a cot,” Brown said. “Now our facilities have evolved, and have to be designed for the long-term success we provide through our programs. This new building will mirror the women’s and children’s residence building we offer at the Changing Lives Center at 15th Avenue and Van Buren Street.”

Located across from the Durango Jail, many of Phoenix Rescue Mission’s programs overlap with correctional systems while an inmate is still serving his sentence. The importance of conveying a new beginning was not lost on the architect and design teams, who said rooms, corridors and other interior spaces were designed with bright colors, maximizing sunlight as a resource.

“We do not take our responsibility lightly with this project,” GCON Executive Vice President Tiffany Fisher said. “We look forward to delivering a project that fits the community’s immediate needs.”

GCON was the general contractor on the project.

With the onset of a post-coronavirus economy, the need for affordable housing in the nation's fifth-largest city has remained a perennial topic of discussion locally. However, Brown said she likes to remind the public that there are several steps in the life rehabilitation process before housing can be addressed.

“The mayor and a lot of other city leaders are all calling for more affordable housing, which is necessary, but we have found the most sustainable way to position people for long-term success is to get the person healthy first,” Brown said. “If the person is not healthy, the housing won’t help, so it is our job to help create a successful transition first, then build their resources for a successful transition.”