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Votes

More Room for ECHO

A 4,000 square-foot expansion project will double the size of ECHO's Springfield office.

Sometimes an organization has to shrink before it can grow.

While in the midst of a $900,000 renovation project, the volunteers at ECHO, Inc. (Ecumenical Council Helping Others) in Springfield have found themselves in cramped quarters, using only two-thirds of their small building which was already too small.

"The building will double in size with the renovation," said executive director Pat Gauthier, walking along the front of the building toward a wooden skeleton of what will be the new addition, which will extend the full width of the front of the building and along the length of the existing western wall.

In addition, the traffic pattern in the parking lot will change, with vehicles coming in the current driveway off Old Keene Mill Road but circling around the building to exit instead of having to turn around, Gauthier said.

Although all of the activity is distracting at times, Gauthier said she and her volunteers are happy to see so much of it around their building.

"We've been raising funds for the past five years" for the expansion, she said. "Our groundbreaking was in March of 2005 and we started work in April of this year. We're just thrilled."

ECHO IS A nonprofit organization that collects food, clothing, toys and other household needs for distribution to needy families, supported by 24 churches in the Burke and Springfield area. The long-awaited expansion will provide additional room for storage, Gauthier said, and will also give their counselors room to work with families in private.

The dream of expanding ECHO goes back at least four years, said John Ray, chairman of the building expansion committee.

Plans for the expansion were "to allow for sufficient room for counselors to meet with clients, sufficient room to display what we give to clients and room for volunteers to sort donations," he said.

Adding the extra space "allows us to expand each of the areas and give us more aisle space, open it up a bit."

When the renovation process started, it was expected to cost between $500,000 and $600,000, said John Frazee, vice president of finance for ECHO.

"By the time we got our last approvals, that had gone up to $900,000 because the cost of materials, labor, concrete, everything went up," he said.

ECHO has raised $800,000 and a line of credit was established with Prosperity Bank "to cover any shortfall before the project is completed," Frazee said.

The work is "on schedule," he said. So far, the wooden skeleton has been established, the concrete slab where the long extension will be built has been poured and workers are starting to work on the roof and outside walls.

INSIDE THE BUILDING at 7205 Old Keene Mill Road, a handful of volunteers were busily sorting food donations received from the recent Post Office workers food drive.

"The back room will be used entirely for food," Gauthier said, noting that a small space in the back of the pantry area is being used by counselors and their clients for consultations now.

Some other changes will be made, such as shifting the entrance from the glass doors near the front of the building to the metal double doors that are where donations have been received.

The main room will be used entirely for distributing clothing and household items like toys and small appliances, Gauthier said. The middle room, where donations are being sorted, will be a receiving area, a waiting room for clients and small offices for counselors.

"All the extra space will be storage," she said. Currently, any excess donations of clothing or appliances are stored in cramped corners of the ECHO facility, or "in my garage," Gauthier laughed.

ECHO is still taking donations and will do so during the renovation, she said. At some point, the facility may have to close completely, but it may only be for a day or two.

"We're very good at making do in small spaces," Gauthier said. "We try to stay really flexible."

Frazee agreed, adding that "we don't want to give up helping people with food and financial assistance."

Temporary storage space has been donated by Interstate Van Lines, which has given ECHO a trailer, parked at the Masonic Lodge on Backlick Road; a storage unit is parked at St. Mark's Church and another large storage space has been utilized at the Shurguard Storage facility in Burke, Gauthier said.

"Optimistically, the renovations will be done in August," she said, adding that it may take until September, depending on the weather and other factors.

"We should be fully open by September," Ray agreed. "We're anxious to get [the construction] over with so we can get in and move around."