To look at the building at 421 S. Mapleton St. now, it might be difficult to visualize what the former fire station maintenance facility could become.

Walking in, visitors see a series of offices that lead into a cavernous maintenance area covered in pegboard, where tools once were stored for work on firetrucks.

But with the help of architects and ideas from facilities around the state, Love Chapel and the Columbus Township Trustee’s Office have approved shelter design plans.

The building, which is in a commercial-industrial area near Love Chapel, will be renovated by a partnership of professional tradesman and community volunteers to create space to house up to 36 people in need of emergency housing.

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The facility will be known as Brighter Days Housing.

The shelter has been proposed as a collaborative partnership among Love Chapel, Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County Churches and the Columbus Township Trustee’s Office, which owns the 8,400-square-foot building.

In July, Love Chapel and the trustee’s office received a zoning variance from the city to locate a homeless shelter at the Mapleton Street address, despite some objections from nearby business owners and residents.

At the time, Columbus Township Trustee Ben Jackson said that approval was the easy part. He predicted the harder part would be coming up with the money needed to renovate the building into a shelter.

Most of that would have to come in the form of donations, volunteer workers and grants, he predicted.

The renovation project is expected to cost $300,000 to $350,000, but that cost will be reduced to about $75,000 to $100,000 with the help of community volunteers and donated materials, said Elizabeth Kestler, Love Chapel director.

Most of the labor involved in renovating the space is being donated, along with some materials, they said.

Some work must be done by licensed professionals, including installing a sprinkler system and the required utility work needed before the commercial-grade restrooms are constructed in the middle of the former maintenance bay. This is the largest expense of the project, organizers predicted.

The materials throughout the shelter, particularly in the bathrooms, must be high quality to weather the continued use of groups of people. New drywall will need to be installed throughout the facility.

Ideas for the design of the facility came from tours of homeless shelters in other cities, including Lafayette Urban Ministries and Wheeler Mission in Indianapolis.

From information gleaned from those tours, Jackson and Kestler agreed to keep the food area to a minimum, serving clients instead through Love Chapel’s hot meal program. Those staying in the shelter will receive a continental breakfast, but the shelter will not have a commercial kitchen, and those staying in the shelter will not be fed lunch or dinner there, Kestler explained.

The restrooms will separate the sleeping areas for men and women, with movable partitions available if there is a need for more beds for one side or the other, Kestler said.

Those who are seeking shelter will enter into a guest lobby and go through an intake process. Offices that ran along the side of the maintenance bay will be reconfigured into a caretaker’s living space, a volunteer room and staff offices. Two large garage doors on either side of the building will be removed and walls built in their place.

To make this transformation happen, Jackson and Kestler are relying on a collaborative partnership of community and city resources, which will in turn bring in more volunteers to help with the building renovation.

Community volunteers will be supervised by a group from Columbus’ Asbury United Methodist Church, where adults and youth who have been involved in mission work throughout the United States now are focusing on their hometown and “Mission Columbus.”

Steve Ferdon, who leads the Asbury mission group, will coordinate volunteers from around Columbus who are interested in working on the project. He is looking for groups from businesses and churches to agree to take on a segment of the work on a designated day.

Jobs will range from demolition work to basic framing work — which takes construction skills — to drywall and painting.

Ferdon, who works for Cummins as director of engineering technology for the Fuel Systems Business, hopes to get at least six teams of volunteers with eight to 12 members each to work on the shelter.

The city of Columbus has reallocated up to $42,654 in Community Development Block Grant money to assist with the building renovation, the city announced in December.

Columbus city utilities will dedicate more than 100 man hours of labor to install the necessary pipes and fittings to provide water and a sprinkler system to the building.

The city’s Department of Public Works is dedicating more than 100 man hours to replace concrete and asphalt that must be removed to add the utilities to the building. That work amounts to about $4,000 being invested by the city.

The township will pay for maintenance, upkeep and insurance on the building, while Love Chapel will staff the facility with paid staff and volunteers around the clock.

Kestler estimated the facility will need at least 100 volunteers every month, serving in four-hour blocks, to staff the facility. Each person who stays at the shelter will be assigned a caseworker, who will be trained to help the person transition back to finding self-sufficiency.

But that will come after the renovation work is completed, estimated to begin early this year and continue into the spring and possibly the summer, depending on the number of volunteers and the pace of the work.

About the shelter

Name: Brighter Days Housing

Location: 421 S. Mapleton St., Columbus

Project: Renovation is a joint project of the Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County Churches/Love Chapel and the Columbus Township Trustee Office

Building size: 8,400 square feet

Owned by: Columbus Township Trustee Office

Formerly: Building was formerly the Columbus Township Fire Department maintenance facility.

What is planned: Homeless shelter that will have beds for 36 people in two separate bunk areas for men and women. The township is paying for maintenance, upkeep and insurance on the building while Love Chapel is staffing the facility with paid staff and volunteers.

How to help

Businesses or groups who are interested in volunteering to help with the homeless shelter renovation work are asked to call Steve Ferdon at 812-344-0276.

Those who call will be asked to describe the skills of the volunteers and what tools you can bring to the job site. Volunteers of all skill levels are needed, from those who have basic skills such as painting or demolition, to those with more advanced skills such as installing drywall or framing walls.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at or (812) 379-5631.