If you’ve been around Burlington for a long time, you may remember Colodny’s, Vermont’s first supermarket, located at the junction of North Street and North Avenue. Colodny’s excellent service and key location in the epicenter of a downtown neighborhood made it a critical gathering place for the community for many years. In the late 20th century, the Colodny’s building became home to Burlington College.
When the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS) was looking for a new space, it was both the legacy spirit and key location that drew them to this site. Here they could offer a convenient and accessible place to connect with and provide services for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. They acquired the building in 2011, moved in their administrative offices, and began thinking about a renovation.
Like the story of many projects in Vermont of late, this one involves a flood. In 2012 COTS’s Day Station on South Winooski flooded and was destroyed. Though unfortunate, COTS saw this as an ambitious opportunity to consolidate services at their new location. Working in partnership with Housing Vermont and architects Duncan Wisniewski, they came up with a design that would co-locate a new Day Station as well as a number of other programs that had previously been scattered around the Burlington area. The second floor would include 14 permanent affordable housing units.
Despite the challenges of contaminated and poor structural soils, the need for major structural repairs, and a severely altered building, the partners went forth.
One of the core values of COTS is the belief in the value and dignity of every human life. Everything about the renovation of this project reflects that belief.
On the exterior, the scale, rhythm and ornament of the original storefront and exterior facades were restored, historic materials were repair or replaced in-kind, pedestrian circulation was improved, and green space was added for gardens and recreation.
On the interior, innovative “trauma informed design” informs the spatial layout, the integration of natural light and the choice of colors. Tables are round to encourage connecting with others, and food from the warming kitchen is served to guests rather than at a buffet. In direct response to guest feedback, the Day Station includes showers and laundry as well as day bunks for homeless night workers who need a safe place to sleep during the day. Comfortable chairs instead of couches provide a space for rest without compromising one’s personal space. Half of the second floor apartments are “aspirational” meaning COTS furnishes and subsidizes the rent so residents can save for something they aspire to do.
Organizationally, this project has enabled COTS to spend fewer resources on rent, overhead and energy, and more resources delivering prioritized services, especially those that work to prevent homelessness in the first place. The design and location has resulted in record numbers of people being served, including those who in the past were reluctant to seek help.
Our communities thrive not only because of the creativity and resourcefulness of leaders, but also because of the level of commitment to creating change even when change seems impossible. The new COTS headquarters on North Ave are a testament to that commitment, restoring the spirit of a historic place with the grace, dignity and determination that echoes the important work they do in the community as a whole.
Preservation Award to Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), Housing Vermont, and Duncan Wisniewski Architecture for the renovation of 95 North Avenue in Burlington.