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AEC Cares blitz build creates 'safe, stable' home for San Francisco youth

Warren Frey
AEC Cares blitz build creates 'safe, stable' home for San Francisco youth
WARREN FREY - The volunteers at the AEC Cares renovation at the Lark-Inn in San Francisco pose for a group photo after a long day.

With the completion of #projectSanFrancisco, AEC Cares has another blitz build in the books.

Since 2011, AEC Cares has paired a one-day blitz build for a non-profit located in the same city as the location of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) annual conference.

For this year’s conference in San Francisco AEC Cares, its partners and sponsors in the architecture and construction community along with 140 volunteers took on #projectSanFrancisco, a renovation of the Lark-Inn, a facility run by Larkin Street Youth Services with living and social spaces for 18 to 24-year-old young adults transitioning from homelessness.

Though the build takes place over the course of a day, AEC Cares president and ConstructConnect chief product officer Jen Johnson said preparation for the event starts as soon as the previous year’s build concludes.

“We always say AEC Cares is one day that’s a year in the making,” Johnson said. “We do a prep day the day before, there’s generally subcontractor work for a week beforehand, but the biggest part of this starts the day after the AIA national convention.

“First thing we do is pull together a design team, find a project and start scoping it out. We have to start very early in the year identifying the right non-profit, space and scope of project, and the right partners to bring in as designers and constructors, and then we have to work on sponsorships.”

AIA of California executive vice-president Nicki Dennis Stephens said like the other preparatory work for the build, the design team was assembled early on in the process.

“The design team was brought on very early on and it was a real collaboration between a number of firms, from DLR Group to CRB, Stantec and Gensler. They all really came together at the beginning in a collaborative way to assess the challenges and come up with innovative solutions,” Stephens said.

CRB project architect Abigail Jones was the design lead on the project and said there were several challenges to modifying the space for current needs.

“(The facility) has not been renovated in the 20 years the Lark-Inn has been operational, so some of the infrastructure was challenging to work around. There are large pipes in the way, a number of surface-mounted wires…We ended up needing to replace a lot of the existing lighting to make it more consistent, replacing flooring and one of the main challenges on build day was how to get 140 amazing volunteers into a relatively small space,” she said.

“It’s a great problem to have when you have too many people for the amount of work to do but we have folks on ladders trying to reach up to high spaces, worked on flooring so we really gave this space a top to bottom makeover.”

Larkin Street Youth Services executive director Sherilyn Adams said in order to accommodate the blitz build the shelter had to plan ahead and move youth temporarily into other facilities to make room for construction and renovation.

“It did mean for a period of time we weren’t able to bring new young people in for the two weeks leading up to this (project),” she said. 

Adams added now that the build is complete residents experiencing homelessness will have the reassurance of a safe and comfortable environment. 

“For those coming into a shelter and housing it offers a very safe, stable and beautiful place to be,” she said.

For more on the AEC Cares blitz build listen to The Construction Record podcast here.

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