A new asbestos discovery during construction of Albuquerque’s Gateway Center in the old Lovelace hospital will delay its opening by at least another month — the latest in a string of setbacks the project has faced since voters approved funding in 2019.
The city government’s new homeless shelter and services center has been in the making for years, though its launch date has been something of a moving target. The city bought the former hospital in 2021 and had previously indicated the first 50 women’s-only shelter beds would be open by the end of 2022.
More recently, the plan included opening the Gateway Center after the property’s existing pop-up shelter closed in April.
However, city representatives confirmed this week that additional site remediation is necessary after recent testing identified asbestos within the shelter’s 50,000-square-foot construction zone.
“This additional abatement will occur to ensure the proper removal of asbestos-containing materials,” city Environmental Health Department spokeswoman Maia Rodriguez said in an emailed response to Journal questions. “This will add some time to the construction schedule.”
Rodriguez said it is not yet clear how much the clean-up will cost or how long it will take, though a representative from the city’s Family and Community Services Department said the current goal is for the Gateway Center to open in its designated, second-floor space some time in May.
The city spent $15 million in 2021 to buy the former hospital building and already had conducted asbestos remediation in other parts of the building, Rodriguez said. But a recent “project inspection” raised concerns about asbestos in the current construction area, she said, prompting the city to order 75 more tests in that vicinity. Seven revealed the need for remediation.
The Gateway Center shelter is taking just a fraction of the 572,000-square-foot former hospital building on Gibson. The Southeast Albuquerque property also will eventually include a medical sobering center and a medical “respite” unit for people who have no home in which to recover from illness or injury.
There are also 11 non-city organizations that rent space on the property, including multiple health care providers. Rodriguez said Tuesday the city has notified tenants in spaces adjacent to the construction area about the asbestos — confirmed via test results received March 9 — but she did not answer a question about how many tenants had not yet been notified.
Services to start
While the Gateway Center may not formally debut until at least May, the city and its contracted Gateway operator, Heading Home, intend to start offering some version of the program in a makeshift space elsewhere in the large building.
“They won’t physically be upstairs on the second floor (Gateway Center area) since that construction hit this unfortunate snag, but the programming will start April 21, so the folks who want to stay will have daytime activities and their whole team of case managers,” FCS spokeswoman Katie Simon said.
Heading Home is already working on the property in areas Simon said are not affected by the asbestos cleanup. Under its city contract, Heading Home in January opened a temporary and basic, coed overnight shelter intended just to get people off the streets during cold winter nights. Clients arrive in the evening, get dinner and a place to sleep and are then shuttled out before breakfast.
That operation will officially end April 21, Simon said. At that point, the female guests interested in the Gateway Center’s more intensive model will be able to access the related “wraparound” services, including case management, daytime access to the facility and three daily meals, Simon said.
“We’re able to start programming April 21 since Heading Home has been there and staffed up,” Simon said. “That’s the good news.”
Path to the Gateway Center
Mayor Tim Keller has for years touted the Gateway Center as a key element in the city’s homelessness-reduction strategy, but the project has encountered multiple hurdles since taxpayers approved funding in 2019.
The city initially struggled to find a location, with the University of New Mexico ultimately rejecting a proposal to put it on its property. The eventual decision to buy the old Lovelace on Gibson triggered a lawsuit, which was since settled, as well as fierce opposition from surrounding residents concerned about the impact it will have on their neighborhoods, which led to a yearlong zoning battle.