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First Glimpse at Shelter

Conceptual design plans for the Katherine K. Hanley Family Shelter were unveiled last week in a special meeting at the Fairfax County Government Center.

Serving predominantly single mothers with children — mainly elementary-school age and younger — the shelter will be built on 5.7 acres just west of Meadows Farms Nursery in Centreville. It will be between the Hampton Forest and Stringfellow Road intersections on Route 29.

"WE EXPECT to start construction in late summer," said Carey Needham, chief of the Building Design branch of the county's Department of Public Works. Construction should take a year and, he said, "By early fall of 2006, we hope to have this facility complete."

The shelter will be mostly two stories, with a residential appearance, and will house up to 20 families — 60 people total. Designing the building is the Alexandria firm of Wisnewski, Blair & Associates Ltd. (WBA).

Entry will be via a service-road stub coming from the adjacent Estates of Fairfax subdivision, being built by Equity Homes. "The shelter entrance will be marked with brick piers on each side, and plantings," said Pat Halpin, WBA vice president and design consultant. "There'll be a loop for cars, school buses and trucks, plus 42 parking spaces."

"We originally proposed a 20,000-square-foot building," said Needham. "But since the public hearing on this project in February, we've tightened up the design, and it'll now be 16,500 square feet."

A pair of two-story, transitional housing units — each 3,000 square feet and serving three families — is planned for the future. These buildings will have shingle roofs and siding with brick accents to fit in with nearby homes and will be behind the shelter. But they're not yet funded.

However, the county does have the money it needs to construct the main building. Initially estimated at $5 million, total project cost is now somewhere between $5.5 million and $6 million. Dollars are coming from several sources — the county's General Fund, the Housing Trust Fund and developer proffers.

Needham said $500,000 was received from developer The West Group, last January, and the other $500,000 it pledged will come in January 2005. As for the rest, he said, "Some Fairfax County budget-carryover money helped get us on our feet after construction and material costs escalated."

AS PART OF the project, the county will construct a pedestrian trail along the shelter's property frontage on Route 29. It will also build the two missing sections of the trail system between the shelter and Stringfellow Road.

"We'll dedicate our property frontage along Route 29 for VDOT's widening of it, and we'll escrow money toward it, as well," said Needham. He said a 6-foot, board-on-board, wooden fence on the east side of the property will separate it from The Estates of Fairfax. And a 6-foot, chain-link fence is planned for the property's north end, near the stormwater-management pond.

Explaining the shelter's floorplan, Halpin said the two-story wing will house bedrooms, with two bedrooms on each floor. The living room and dining room will face the back where the outdoor play area will be.

The part of the building that's 1 1/2 stories will be toward Route 29 and will contain spaces for offices and classes upstairs. Said Halpin: "We took the effort to put the smaller side facing Lee Highway, in keeping with the residential scale there."

The shelter will have a brick entrance and base, plus siding, and a shingled roof. In the rear, facing west on the site, will be a playground and outdoor sitting area. "And there'll be an access road for the residents to use to get to the trail and for [workmen] to do maintenance on the stormwater-management pond."

Carey said full-cutoff light fixtures are planned, with the parking-lot lights shielded so they're directed straight down. Their maximum height will be 20 feet, and the building will also have some perimeter lighting for safety. But, added Halpin, "It'll be nothing more than you'd have on a house."

The county's three existing family shelters are in the northern, southern and eastern parts of the county — with 50-60 families on the waiting list, at all times — so a shelter in western Fairfax is sorely needed.

"We're hoping to eliminate much of the waiting list, but maybe not all," said Kathy Froyd, with the county's Department of Family Services. Added Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch: "A lot of the people in the motels now will be able to stay in the shelter."

CLAUDETTE WARD of Willow Springs asked where people go after leaving the shelter, and Centreville's Carol Hawn said that, this summer, the county established a Council on Homelessness and is looking at transitional and permanent shelter housing.

"And some ADUs [affordable dwelling units] are being built," said Hawn. "The Board [of Supervisors] has made it one of its goals to increase the stock of affordable housing."

"Because of our diverse and growing population of over a million people, there's a tremendous need in the county for affordable housing," said county Planning Commission Chairman Pete Murphy. "So we've been requiring developers to build the units, not just contribute to the Housing Fund. And those ADUs are integrated into the community and not pushed to one side."

And Froyd noted that the shelter will train people and help them find jobs for after they leave the shelter. That way, she said, "They're not in the same situation they were when they came to the shelter."