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  • County, City improving efficiency of shelters

    Jun 04, 2015 | Read More News
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    Pio Decimo familyThe Byas and Casitas Apartments at Pio Decimo have new energy-efficient stoves and refrigerators as well as some heating and cooling improvements as part of a joint Pima County and City of Tucson partnership that is committing  approximately $1 million over five years to improve the energy efficiency of area transitional shelters and boost their capacity.

    Margaret Kish, director of the county’s Community Development and Neighborhood Conservation department, helped launch the program when she reached out to city officials to discuss ways that transitional shelters could “green” their facilities to make them more efficient as well as cost effective.  The city and county contracted with the architectural firm of Poster Frost Mirto to advise approximately 20 emergency and transitional shelters to identify structural needs and make recommendations on energy-efficient improvements.

    The city and county kicked in between $100,000 and $150,000 each year in Community Development Block Grant funds and contracted with Habitat for Humanity Tucson to manage the program. This year the county will split funding on improvements at Primavera Foundation’s men’s shelter and Old Pueblo Community Services -- a residence used to house homeless veterans. At Old Pueblo, officials will install double pane windows, heating and cooling, electrical boxes and insulation. The Primavera project includes heating and cooling improvements, and new sprinkler heads, hot water tanks, toilets, urinals and plumbing fixtures with low-flow energy efficiency. In addition to building the operations and maintenance capacity of local agencies, the goal of the project is to increase energy efficiency, reduce utility costs and usage, and to improve the health and safety factors of the facilities.

    Among the city’s 2015 projects are converting TMM Desert Winds, a four-unit complex, to transitional housing and upgrading evaporative cooling to air conditioning at  Esperanza En Escalante, the veterans housing located near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

    In their 149-page report “Green and Healthy Assessment of Pima County’s Emergency Shelters and Transitional Housing,” the architects at Poster Frost Mirto wrote of the need to overcome a “poverty mentality” under which many shelters operate. “They make‐do with donations and with less‐than‐efficient products without particular attention to the long range cost/benefit of those donations,” stated the report. “There needs to be a change in the paradigm and a change in the vision: shelters and transitional housing should have the best, most advanced building systems so that the operational side of these facilities is efficient, healthy, and focused on the long‐term life‐cycle costs, environmental costs, and best benefit to the agencies and to the people who live in these facilities.”

    Antiquated refrigeration equipment at one shelter, for example, draws excessive power, resulting in high utility bills. “New efficient equipment would pay for itself in electric bill savings in a short time frame,” the report stated.
    “The agencies that participate in this initiative serve some of the most vulnerable individuals and families in our community,” Kish said. “Reducing the operation costs for these housing programs provides more direct dollars to serve those in need for many years to come.”