The LeeShore Center in Kenai has been cooking up some major improvements for the women and children who stay there — namely, its kitchen.
The domestic violence shelter is one of 17 in Alaska getting some help to address deferred maintenance issues with its building. Funding for these improvements came through the Statewide Domestic Violence Shelter Improvements Initiative, a $4 million project funded by the state and other donors, according to the Alaska Community Foundation’s website. Funding from the state was matched by the Rasmuson Foundation and other organizations, with the Alaska Community Foundation serving as the project’s fiscal sponsor.
Beginning in 2015, each of the 17 shelters on the list to benefit from the funding were surveyed during a pre-development program to take stock of their condition and prioritize what to fix, said Cheri Smith, the executive director of the LeeShore Center. The surveys were focused on identifying what problems presented the greatest threats to safety, she said.
“Most of the shelters are long term — you know, they’ve been there forever,” Smith said. “Our agency opened in ‘85, so what’s that, 31 years. The conditions in some of the shelters has been kind of problematic.”
Securing funding on a shelter-to-shelter basis for capital projects and maintenance can be difficult, Smith said, as most of a shelter’s money is strictly tied up in operational costs.
During the condition survey at LeeShore, it was determined the kitchen needed the most attention. When it’s finished, the facility will have a new ceiling and floors, a new three-part sink, a larger island, an updated freezer area and additional cabinets. LeeShore is also getting a renovated laundry room and some work done on the front door alarm system.
The kitchen was last updated in the mid-2000’s, Smith said, and that was to re-do the cabinets.
Construction was slated to last just over a month, with the floors taking a few extra weeks to set before being finished. Keeping the shelter’s occupants fed during this project was looking like a challenge until Verizon stepped in, Smith said.
“When we shut out kitchen down for a month or more … people kind of take care of their breakfasts … they can make sandwiches for lunch, but there’s no way for us to do hot meals in the evening,” she said.
The Verizon Foundation hopped in on the shelter improvement initiative and gave $25,000 in grant money to the Alaska Community Foundation, which was split between three organizations — one of them LeeShore — to provide a budget for hiring a caterer. Smith said LeeShore was given around $8,000 to contract Kenai Catering to bring in about 20 hot meals a night Monday through Friday for the duration of the kitchen remodel.
The catered meals have been helpful in terms of keeping women and children at the shelter dispite the construction, Smith said.
“Any time you’re doing something in the back, it’s disruptive,” she said. “This has been a really smooth process.”
Blazy Construction, Inc. got the bid for the LeeShore renovation, and also did the work on shelters in Homer and Kodiak, said Jay Johnson, superintendent at the company.
While LeeShore has been very well maintained over the years and other Alaska shelters are in worse shape, Smith said keeping up with things like a safe kitchen, a well-running laundry room and the front door’s alarm system is about more than aesthetics.
“You’re talking about the health and well being of people,” she said of the project. “… When you have women and children staying in an emergency shelter, your kitchen has to be up to date, it has to be clean, there’s got to be safety things.”