Construction work is under way on a new homeless shelter in Columbus, with some of the workers learning on the job.

A group of students from the Atterbury Job Corps plasterers and cement masons program are working throughout the next week to dig and refill utility trenches and then pour concrete in preparation for framing the shelter’s restrooms. The new plumbing was installed recently by Joe Lohmeyer of Lohmeyer Plumbing in Columbus. The new concrete is being donated by Shelby Materials, Columbus.

The students are among the first to work on the Brighter Days homeless shelter at 421 S. Mapleton St., a project of Love Chapel, Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County Churches and the Columbus Township Trustee’s office.

The 8,400-square-foot building, a former township fire truck maintenance facility, is in a commercial district near Love Chapel. The $300,000 to $350,000 renovation project is largely being done with volunteers and donated materials, reducing the cost to an estimated $75,000 to $100,000, said Elizabeth Kestler, Love Chapel director.

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The shelter will be named Brighter Days Housing, eventually sheltering as many as 36 people in emergency situations.

Darius Burr, 20, who is from Indianapolis and has been in the Job Corps program for about four months, was working on the concrete trenches Thursday morning, bundled up in a coat and cold weather gear as the garage doors to the building were open.

He signed up with Job Corps to learn how to work with concrete in the hopes of making it a career.

“It’s like art to me,” he said, as he and the other workers carefully worked around the plumbing work.

Mike Sharp, the cement mason instructor for the program, said that when Columbus Township Trustee Ben Jackson approached him last year about making the shelter concrete work a Job Corps project, he couldn’t pass it up — even if the work was in the heart of Indiana’s winter season.

It’s just a great opportunity for the students to work in conditions that they would experience on a job site, said Jeff Byrd, business and community director for the Job Corps program.

There are 410 students in the Job Corps program in Edinburgh, working on projects around the area, including some in Bartholomew and Johnson counties, Byrd said. There are 20 students enrolled in the local masonry program who come from all over Indiana, from Lake County to Evansville.

Many of the students who come into the Job Corps program do not have a high school diploma or job skills, Sharp said. The program helps them obtain their degree, get a driver’s license and teaches employable skills and a trade — such as cement masonry. The program mixes trade skills with academics, and supplies needed guidance on holding a job, Sharp said.

“For some of them, it’s the first time they’ve worked,” he said. “We treat this experience like a job. And it could be the first job they’ve ever had.”

A job like the shelter project is a hands-on training opportunity that has a benefit to the community, Byrd said.

The importance of working with local communities, particularly nonprofits such as Love Chapel, can’t be beat, Byrd said.

“We can’t simulate this in a classroom,” Sharp said as he kept a watchful eye on the students back-filling the trenches. He stopped them a few times to offer instruction.

When community members have a Job Corps student working in their facility, they could decide to offer that student a job, another benefit for the program, Byrd said.

Thomas Cobb, 20, of East Chicago, is the shop foreman for the homeless shelter project. He said he hopes one day to work on big concrete projects, not necessarily in management, and is headed to an advanced training program in Texas following his Indiana training.

After Cobb’s crew finishes their work, the next phase of renovating the building will be to start the shelter’s intake lobby construction, said Steve Ferdon, who is helping supervise the volunteer work force through Columbus’ Asbury United Methodist Church mission group.

Jobs available to volunteers range from demolition work to basic framing, which does take some basic construction skills, and on to drywall and painting.

Volunteers will be needed for a framing blitz for the shelter’s restroom and for extensive drywall work that will begin after framing is done, Ferdon said. Most of those volunteers will be needed in late February.

Ferdon said the project needs dozens of volunteers.

So far, however, finding help is working out, said Ferdon, who is director of engineering technology for Cummins’ Fuel Systems Business.

“Joe Lohmeyer has been a dream,” Ferdon said of the plumber.

Ferdon also has been working with cabinet maker Darren Buffo, who is helping with some structural issues for the shelter.

“He (Buffo) knows how to do stuff and has friends,” Ferdon said. “We go to order something and we think it’s going to take a month and he shows up the next day with it.”

Watching the initial stages of the renovation come together does have an effect on the volunteers, including Burr, who said he will remember that he once helped construct a homeless shelter in Columbus.

“It’s just special,” he said of the project. “I want to come back here after it’s done just to see it.”

About Atterbury Job Corps

Atterbury Job Corps is a no-cost education and career technical training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor that helps young people ages 16 to 24 improve the quality of their lives through career technical and academic training.

To learn more about the academic and trade programs available, visit:

atterbury.jobcorps.gov/Home.aspx

About Brighter Days Housing

Location: 421 S. Mapleton St., Columbus

Project: The renovation of a former Columbus Township fire truck maintenance facility into a homeless shelter 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

What is planned: The homeless shelter 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, groups or individuals 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 they can bring to the job site. Volunteers of all skill levels are needed, from those with basic skills in 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 jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.