Editorial: Find a new shelter

It wasn’t meant to be.
Pioneer Hall — a quaint, nearly century-old log building across from Lithia Park and adjacent to the Ashland Community Center — has served as a winter shelter for the homeless four nights a week. But the building is not up to fire code for residential occupancy, and it’s vulnerable to collapse in a heavy snowstorm. In addition, the chimney would be hazardous in an earthquake.
The shelter is now closed for the season, and it is not scheduled to reopen next fall. That’s unfortunate, but the city cannot be expected to keep using a substandard building. The city would be liable if anyone were to be injured or killed in a fire in a building with no sprinklers.
The building could be made safe for emergency use without fire sprinklers, but even that would cost $335,000, and cold weather does not qualify as an emergency. Installing sprinklers ups the cost to $404,000.
City councilors say they want to continue providing shelter, but not necessarily in Pioneer Hall. The council plans to ask the public for suggestions about how best to use the building. That’s a worthy effort, and residents should speak up. The Parks Department has expressed interest.
Shelter organizers and churches will work with the city to seek an alternative site. A meeting is set for noon Thursday, April 26, at the library.
The City Council has expressed support for a continued shelter operation next winter, and councilors should help make that happen — just not in Pioneer Hall.

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