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Community Partnership moves on homeless-to-homeowner initiative

November opening is planned for housing center at former Pepperdine schoolhouse

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Community Partnership of the Ozarks has at least one more major hurdle to clear in opening a new, larger community-housing center at former Pepperdine Elementary: raising more than $1 million in the next handful of months.

The nonprofit centered on collaborative youth, family, neighborhood and community services is targeting a November opening for its planned homeless-to-homeowner initiative at the 1518 E. Dale St. building.

With a recent nod from Springfield City Council allowing office space at the facility, focus for the nonprofit has shifted into raising funds to fully renovate the vacant, 24,000-square-foot brick schoolhouse currently owned by Springfield Public Schools.

CPO Executive Director Janet Dankert said the group’s collaborative efforts were cramped from the get-go at the current, comparatively tiny affordable housing center at 300 E. Central St., where about a dozen rotating community groups chip in to provide a range of social services.

“We’ve been looking for over a year, and Pepperdine ended up being at the top of our list,” Dankert said of plans to find adequate space.

“It’s our hope that, by offering a bigger space, we’ll be able to have those partners there most of the time and also expand opportunities for other partners.”

She said plans are in place to purchase Pepperdine Elementary for $100,000, hopefully penning the deal with SPS by the end of March.

Funding via $1 million in city-committed U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money would cover the purchase, as well as start renovation work, Dankert said.

She said at least another million dollars in private funding – ranging from donations to the sale of property naming rights – is still needed to complete the renovations.

The project would include replacing significant portions of the roof, installing an elevator, and replacing the heating, cooling and ventilation system, Dankert said.

She said the brick-and-stone exterior of the school would remain preserved, with only the interior getting a major revamping. The renovations would create 31 offices – up from the current 12 on Central Street – for use by partnering organizations at the new center, in addition to open workspace and added room for support staff, Dankert said.

For the renovations, CPO has teamed with architect Brad Erwin, board treasurer for the group, and project manager Lindsay Reichert, both of Springfield’s Paragon Architecture LLC, with which a final contract has not yet been settled.

Once completed, the planned initiative at Pepperdine would not provide short-term housing onsite for the homeless.

Rather, the center would be a sort of one-stop center to secure housing elsewhere, hosting several other community-based services.

“We get that a lot here, a lot of calls, because people in southwest Missouri and farther out are coming here, and they’re calling to get shelter,” said LeeAnn Camey, coordinator for the Springfield Community Land Trust, an affordable-housing partner of the current center. “We do the assessment for shelter here, but this is not a not a shelter or a drop-in center or that kind of thing.”

Among the many other service providers collaborating at the center, Burrell Behavioral Health offers a nonprofit source of mental health rehabilitation.

Mathew Gass, licensed clinical social worker with Burrell, said the locality promised by the Pepperdine-based center makes the effective difference from services currently offered through CPO’s One Door program.

“Before, we may be telling somebody, ‘Hey, there’s this service, but it’s across town.’” he said. “And with Pepperdine, it’s going to be, ‘Here’s this service, and it’s right next door.’”

Camey said the current affordable housing center originally was set for demolition, before the city decided to donate the space for use as the affordable housing center.

“This was a great place to start,” Camey said.

“But really, we haven’t been able to have the partner interaction that we really desire to make this a one-stop shop.”

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