Lawrence homeless boxes cost more per square foot than LMH West Campus

LAWRENCE – At 64 square feet in size, the City of Lawrence’s new pallet-built homeless shelters are about the size of a walk-in closet, but the city spent more per square foot on its prefabricated homeless village than the cost of the new Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s West Campus.

Cost of the project is a point that is not escaping critics in the Lawrence community some four years after the city spent $300,000 on tents for a homeless encampment on the north bank of the Kaw River – one that’s continued to be a thorn in the city’s side ever since. Builders in the Lawrence area declare the city’s new Shelter Village, at a $2.2 million price tag, appears “Tiffany-like expensive,” according to the Lawrence Journal World newspaper.

Y&Y Design photo

At a construction cost of $100 million and a multi-floor volume of 243,000 square feet, the cost of the LMH West Campus comes in at around $411 a square foot. But at $2.2 million for 50 tiny homeless shelters at the location off North Michigan Street plus another three 100 square foot buildings the city purchased from the Washington state company, the city’s homeless offering totals some $630 a square foot – a point noted by locals in the construction trade like Kelly Drake.

The shelters aren’t actually built from shipping pallets – they’re made from composite materials that shed moisture and mold, according the company’s website. Drake told the Lawrence Journal World if compared to other residential units,  the city’s Shelter Village is probably the most expensive residences Lawrence has ever seen.

At a cost comparison that considers the new LMH West campus, he’s probably not far off.

The LJW notes typical construction costs in the Lawrence area at less than $200 per square foot according to builders and real estate agents. Construction costs and square footage figures for University of Kansas-owned dormitories constructed in recent years were not immediately available to the Kansas Informer.

Pallet Shelter photo

The Kaw River encampment has caused a great deal of static in Lawrence, with its proximity to downtown businesses contributing to run-ins between often inebriated or drug-addled panhandlers and shoppers/diners. Incidents have been particularly detrimental to business in North Lawrence which were in closest proximity to the north bank camp, some of whom filed suit against the city last year. A 51 year-old woman was found stabbed to death in a tent near the camp last week, and local police are investigating the homicide.

Though never discussed publicly on the record, locals saw some advantage in the pallet village being located further north and west of the commercial business area toward I-70 at the North Michigan location. City officials have pressed police to attempt to enforce a rule that homeless campsites had to be at least 15 feet from the Kaw River levee.

Lawrence and Douglas County officials say they plan to spend $100 million over the next five years with a “strategic plan” to combat homelessness.

Dane Hicks is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the United States Marine Corps Officer Candidate School at Quantico, VA. He is the author of novels "The Skinning Tree" and "A Whisper For Help." As publisher of the Anderson County Review in Garnett, KS., he is a recipient of the Kansas Press Association's Boyd Community Service Award as well as more than 60 awards for excellence in news, editorial and photography.

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