AUSTIN, Texas — Construction is underway to narrow the sidewalk surrounding the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) downtown.

The construction is part of a resolution passed in October 2017 to redesign the operations and services at the shelter. A new contract with Front Steps regarding operations at the shelter began on April 1, 2019, with an understanding that changes would take place over a transition period of several months.

According to the City of Austin, the project includes reconfiguration of part of the existing sidewalk at the following locations:

  • Northern portion of Seventh Street from Neches Street halfway down the block toward Red River Street
  • Eastern portion of Neches Street from Seventh Street halfway down the block toward Eighth Street

Construction is scheduled to begin on Sept. 16, with estimations that it will last two weeks. Neches and Seventh streets will undergo construction at separate times. The process will not block access to the shelter or the clinic, city leaders said.

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Portions of both sidewalk sections will be replaced with crushed granite, similar to the layout outside the Salvation Army. The City said at least six feet of existing sidewalk will remain along each portion to ensure mobility access.

The change comes as an effort by the City to make the area safer.

Greg McCormack, executive director of Front Steps, the organization that manages the ARCH, expressed concern for employees and clients.

"Individuals who are coming in for services need a safe passage to come through and we think this change will help that," said McCormack.

He adds that the area outside the shelter has seen an increase in loitering since city council relaxed its public sitting and camping ordinances.

"We have seen a few more people outside our shelter," he said. "We've seen a little more permanency in the tents that have come up. Luckily, it hasn't resulted in any more violence or problems for us."

Other improvements for the facility, which have already been completed or are planned to over the next year, include:

  • Interior floors resurfaced and cleaned (June 2019)
  • Interior walls painted (June 2019)
  •  New security equipment at entrance (fiscal year 2018) 
  • New entry desk and information center desk installed (July 2019) 
  • Laundry equipment replaced to comply with permitting requirements (September-October 2019) 
  • Sidewalk construction to narrow the sidewalk along the full length of Seventh Street and Neches Street and add drought-tolerant plants and other garden elements that require minimal water (September 2019)
  •  Additional street lighting (fiscal year 2020) 
  • Possible installation of drinking fountains nearby (fiscal year 2020) 
  • Plumbing improvements affecting restrooms on the first floor (fiscal year 2020) 
  • Multiple additional improvements including storage for personal belongings, outside access to the ARCH CommUnityCare Clinic, third-floor patio renovations, garage renovations, and infrastructure maintenance. (fiscal year 2020)

The project is estimated to cost $54,000 and construction will take place Monday through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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