Ogden food bank building needs repairs and upgrades

Feb 7 2011 - 12:20am

OGDEN -- Recent small fires in an outdated building that houses both Catholic Community Services and the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank have gotten the attention of officials there.

The latest fire, which was in October, sparked a feeling of urgency about repairs as officials now are viewing such needs as reaching a critical level.

Other fires were in spring and summer 2009.

"We believe that Catholic Community Services needs to obtain funding to cover upgrades to our fire and security systems," said Marcie Valdez, Northern Utah director of Catholic Community Services. "These incidents caused us to take a closer look at some of the issues regarding being in an older building."

The building is an old school that was converted for use by the nonprofit agency.

The school, formerly known as Hopkins Elementary School, was built in 1918, with additions in 1947 and 1948.

The announcement of the infrastructure needs comes at a time when many in the community believe the agency has its needs met, especially for feeding the hungry.

Walmart announced that Northern Utah was the fourth-place finisher in its "Fighting Hunger Together" Facebook campaign, earning $100,000 to fight hunger in this area. The Salt Lake City area received $1 million for finishing first in the contest.

But how that money will be distributed will not be released until later this month.

Valdez said she's hoping to receive funds from the Walmart grant for vehicles needed in a joint venture with area grocery stores to rescue food items too close to their expiration date for the businesses to sell to the public.

She said because that money won't be spent directly on food, people also have been surprised to learn that the food bank actually is in a desperate situation right now, trying to raise enough food to get itself through to March when the Boy Scouts hold an annual food drive.

The food bank has announced a new food drive for this month, titled "Who has the biggest heart?," that will pit businesses and other organizations against each other to see which will raise the largest amount of nonperishable food.

Valdez is hoping that besides helping to raise food, area businesses will follow Walmart's lead and sponsor various infrastructure needs the building now has.

"Each year, Catholic Community Services struggles to raise the necessary funding to cover our day-to-day operating costs," Valdez said. "With our operating costs running at a deficit, it is very difficult to come up with funding to pay for necessary building repairs and upgrades. With each repair needed, funding is taken from operating costs."

One such example occurred when officials borrowed $2,000 from operating funds to install smoke alarms that are connected to the food bank's alarm system.

"Prior to this, we had no alarm system in the building that would notify the fire department if there was a fire after hours," Valdez said.

Additional funds are needed, she said, to complete the work in the food warehouse and back hallways.

Because of the height of the warehouse and building materials in the hallways, the sensors installed in other parts of the building do not work in these areas. Valdez said fixing this problem would cost $5,000.

"If we were able to find the funding, the ultimate protection would be to have a sprinkler system installed," she said. Such a system would cost $100,000. One fire hazard in the building is created by about 30 old lighting fixtures that need replacing.

"These were the cause of two of the three small fire responses we have had in the last two years," Valdez said. Replacing these light fixtures would cost $3,000, she said.

Other infrastructure needs in the building and their estimated costs are as follows:

* New fencing and gates and a security system, $23,000.

* Electrical issues, $3,000.

* Replacing outdated heating and swamp coolers in the warehouse, $50,000.

* Replacing windows, door casings and floors, $20,000 to $30,000.

"We live in a very generous community," said Pam Parkinson, advisory board chairwoman for Catholic Community Services of Northern Utah. "When people know there is a need, they come forward to help."

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