From The Amherst Bulletin, Friday, June 29, 2012
By NICK GRABBE, Staff Writer
Construction of the new Amherst Survival Center is on schedule and the building is due to open between November and January.
The center, which provides about 4,000 low-income people a year with free lunches, groceries, housewares, clothes and medical care, operates out of a cramped basement at 1200 North Pleasant St. There isn’t enough space for the 70 people who eat lunch there daily, parking is inadequate, food deliveries have to come through a window and the rooms have to serve multiple purposes.
But the new center, a third of a mile north on Sunderland Road, across from Cowls Building Supply, will double the space to 6,000 square feet. The center, which has received $2.2 million in pledges, hopes to reach its goal of $2.5 million by the time it opens. A mailing sent out two weeks ago aims to raise $300,000, said Jan Eidelson, president of the center’s board.
The new center will have a dining area of about 1,000 square feet, four times what exists now, as well as outdoor picnic tables. There will be dedicated examination rooms for volunteer doctors Daniel Clapp and Paul Berman, who now use the executive director’s office for their work. The “free store” will no longer be a walk-through area and a basement will provide 2,500 square feet of storage space for food and other items, said Eidelson.
There will be a 19-by-13-foot workshop that can be used for 12-step programs, English classes, or yoga and meditation, she said. The doctors’ offices, when not in use, can double as private consultation rooms for the social service organizations with which the Survival Center is affiliated, she said.
The building will be energy-efficient, with 10 inches of insulation in the roof, and there are plans to install solar panels to provide electricity in the future, she said. It will receive a lot of natural light, in contrast to the basement that now houses the center. The new building has a 4-by-9-foot picture window 15 feet above the dining area.
“We want people to feel surrounded by support,” Eidelson said. “Light represents freedom. It represents hope and space. People can take the space they need here instead of being crowded into a basement.”
Donations to the building campaign have ranged from $2.50 in an envelope from a volunteer to a jar with 4,000 pennies in it to an individual gift of $200,000.
“The community came together to make this happen,” Eidelson said. “I didn’t know people would give this much money, but it’s such a feel-good opportunity.”
A sidewalk is due to be built on Sunderland Road when the road is repaved this summer.
The new Survival Center building is not on a bus line, creating a problem for guests without cars. The board is trying to arrange an extension from the bus stop in the center of North Amherst, but this would probably cost money, Eidelson said. Town Manager John Musante and Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, are assisting in this effort, she said.
Western Builders of Granby is constructing the building and could be done as soon as late October, she said. Staff and volunteers will paint the interior and install shelving and furniture before the opening, she said.
An attractive building will make it easier for the Survival Center staff to communicate to guests that they don’t have to feel ashamed about coming there, she said. “You don’t have to go down into a basement to get your needs met,” she said.