LA GRANDE — The Union County Warming Station may begin operating at its new location by mid-February.
"That is what we are shooting for," said Cody Vela, chair of the warming station's board. "We are near the finish line."
But this is not a certainty, he noted, because speed bumps can arise during a construction project.
The warming station in Suite B of a business building at 2008 Third St. near downtown La Grande received permits from the city on Tuesday to conduct renovations that are necessary for the structure to meet city codes so it can open to provide a respite from cold weather for those in need.
"The city was very helpful in helping us get the permits quickly. We really appreciate their help," Vela said.
Vela said general contractor Better Homes Construction, La Grande, is set to begin the work soon.
Renovations include the installation of a fire door between suites B and A, where a business operates. Vela said the shelter's board considered installing a fire wall but opted for a door because it would allow people working in the business side and volunteering at the warming station to move about more freely.
"We did not want to permanently modify the building," he said.
Having a fire door instead of a wall, Vela added, also would make the building more attractive to future renters if the warming station moves out of it years from now.
The shelter's suite also requires a sprinkler system for fire suppression. Vela said that installation may be one of the most time-consuming projects because it involves plumbing and electrical alarm work, which will automatically notify emergency services when the sprinkler system activates.
The warming station's restroom also needs expanding to be wheelchair accessible.
Other additions, Vela said, include the installation of illuminated emergency exit signs, a video camera to record activity outside when the station is closed and better outdoor lighting to make it easier to see in a nearby alley at night.
"We want to do whatever we can to help our neighbors feel safe," Vela said.
The lease agreement the Union County Warming Station has with the owner of the building allows for guests to bring in their pets, but the animals have to stay in portable kennels in a room away from where people will be sleeping. Vela said the station used the kennels in 2018-19 at the Willow Street site and had no problems from pets.
The city's planning commission approved a conditional-use permit in October, allowing the warming station to move into the Third Street building. However, the process was nearly derailed when La Grande developer Al Adelsberger, with the support of a number of downtown businesses, filed an appeal. Adelsberger said he was not against the warming station but believes its location is not ideal because it is close to downtown.
In December, the city council denied the appeal, giving the warming shelter the green light to go ahead with the renovations.
Vela said the station will be open approximately from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., but the number of volunteers the warming station has will influence the hours of operation. He also said the station will continue running until the weather warms to the point the homeless population does not need protection from the season. The warming shelter will then reopen when the winter comes around again.
"We will operate, weather dependent, as long as needed," Vela said.