RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — As temperatures are beginning to drop, student leaders at Virginia Commonwealth University are calling for a university-owned building to be used as an overflow shelter this winter.
The building, which is located at 534 N. Harrison Street, was once the nightclub, Mansion. It was purchased by the university in 2018. “That building has literally been vacant,” said Taylor Maloney, president of the student body at VCU.
A spokesperson for the university said the building will soon be used for the storage of COVID-19 supplies. However, the Student Government Association sees it as an opportunity to help those in need as the weather gets colder.
Because of the pandemic, the City of Richmond is working to shelter families in hotel rooms, rather than single-use building spaces.
“The city’s decision to not have cold weather overflow shelters this winter when we’re facing a pandemic on top of an eviction crisis, it just seems like we’re leaving people out,” Maloney said.
Maloney said the SGA voted unanimously to request that the university convert the building into an overflow shelter.
“If it’s just a roof over someone’s head and they already keep the lights on as it is all the time anyways, why not just let people be there sheltered from the elements?” Maloney said.
However, VCU responded Monday saying it would not be that simple.
A university spokesperson said VCU would first need to hire an architect to evaluate the building and present its findings to the state Department of General Services in order to have the building’s classification changed to accommodate a shelter.
The building is currently classified as an A-3 assembly space. A spokesperson for VCU said it would need to be classified as an R-2 residential building to become a shelter. That process could take up to 90 days.
If that request is approved, the building would need about $1 million in renovations to bring it into compliance, according to the spokesperson. Those renovations would include a new electrical system, a new mechanical system, a new fire alarm system and ADA-compliant restrooms.
“There simply isn’t enough time to work through the required process for changing the building use and complete the necessary design and construction work to bring the building into compliance as a cold weather shelter,” the spokesperson said.
However, Maloney feels there are other options. “VCU owns a lot of real estate and a lot of it is bought with our money so I just feel like we should have a say,” she said.
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