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Boulder Shelter for the Homeless

31,858 sf structure utilizing minimal operational and life cycle costs through roof-mounted solar panels and a geo-exchange mechanical system, located on a 51,518 sf site. The building incorporated men’s and women’s emergency/overnight sheltering, as well as transitional (longer term) lodging to allow clients in recovery to work on re-integrating productively back into society.  The program also incorporated a commercial kitchen, dining area, laundry, workforce development training area, and outdoor space that incorporated recreation and gardening. The initial capital site and building construction costs for the Shelter’s budget were set at $4,145,000.   The final completion cost for the project was $20,000 under the Guaranteed Maximum Price.

Design Goal  


The primary goal for the Shelter project was to create a welcoming, safe, and empowering environment, where residents would have the support system they need to return to self-sufficiency.  Central to every design decision was, of course, the very limited budget.

The design process began with an intensive search to find a location that best served the homeless population, as well as the surrounding community.  With the site selected, a committee of Shelter staff and neighborhood representatives was formed in order to address existing concerns and identify potential impacts.  The committee was able to develop mutually satisfactory solutions during the ‘good neighbor’ process.  Guidelines for future communication and dispute resolution were also discussed to ensure continued cooperation.

The final building design and spatial organization incorporated suggestions from both the ‘good neighbor’ process and from in-depth programming meetings with Shelter staff.  Increasing resident capacity from 84 to 160 and incorporating functions, previously off-site, required the new building be easily maintained with minimal operational and life cycle costs.

The shelter project illustrates a successful community-based process.  The process for siting, design and under budget construction of the new Shelter moved a community from a static position of intense neighborhood opposition to broad-based community support from neighbors, local regional and state stakeholders through volunteerism and financial support.

It was designed to provide services to meet the countywide need for the next 10-year period; at which time the surrounding communities could support their own homeless population.  The Shelter was created with enough space to provide shelter, food, medical services, life-skills training, counseling and other on-site support services for its residents. Due to the complex social and political impacts of the project, the design team worked closely with the city, county, state and local neighborhood representatives to successfully integrate the Shelter into the fabric of the local urban neighborhood.

Because of the collaboration between the Architect, Client, and the Community, the design of the Shelter achieved the client’s goals and exceeded their expectations.  Residents now have a place they can call ‘home’ even if it is only temporary.  The new Shelter provides a dignified place to stay with all the necessary support services to aid residents in getting back on their feet.

Project Results included

  • The Shelter is no longer turning potential residents out into the cold because no beds are available.

  • The geo-exchange heat pump system is performing as expected and is projected to save the Shelter over $10,000 on energy costs this year.

  • The consolidation of off-site Shelter facilities has reduced operational costs and improved communications between administration staff and facilities staff, which has in turn increased staff efficiency.

  • Morale and staff retention has increased due to a more pleasing work environment.

  • Shelter staffing levels are the same as they were in the old location, even though the square footage more than quadrupled.

  • After moving into the new building, incidents per resident have declined despite an increase in the number of residents.  Evidence also shows the safety of the residents and staff has not been compromised.

  • Increased storage allows the Shelter to accept additional donations of goods and equipment.


Completed in 2003.

Post-Project Completion Quotes

Ron Secrist, former City of Boulder Manager, 4/12/04

“The process of creating shelters for the homeless can become highly charged and divisive within a community. There is so much false and incendiary information surrounding the potential impacts to nearby properties. As a City Manager who has gone through the creation of or relocation of shelters in three communities, I am very familiar with the challenges. However, the facts reveal that well designed and operated shelters actually have virtually no impact upon adjoining properties and may even reduce impacts in other parts of the community because the assistance services of the facilities serve to mitigate them.”

John Pollak, former Co-Director, Department of Housing and Human Services, City of Boulder, 4/12/04

“architectural manoeuvres worked constructively with funders and the Board of the Shelter for the Homeless to design a cost-effective facility that would serve the needs of the homeless community. The City of Boulder greatly appreciates architectural manoeuvres efforts to balance conflicting objectives. The result is a well designed Shelter that will provide sustainable community benefit to Boulder.”

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