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Poverello closing funding gap after plumbing failure, but shuffle continues

The kitchen was among the areas impacted by the Poverello Center’s plumbing failure. Fundraising to cover the $150,000 cost for cleanup and repairs continues. (Missoula Current file photo)

The basement of the Poverello Center remains closed a month after a plumbing disaster flooded the building with sewage, though the shelter’s manager said Tuesday the dorm should reopen by the end of the month.

Amy Allison Thompson, executive director of the Pov, said impacts from the May 8 plumbing failure are still being mitigated. Fundraising to cover the $150,000 cost for cleanup and repairs also continues.

Due to the type of failure that occurred, Thompson said, the shelter’s insurance covers just $30,000.

“It was covered by an insurance extension within our policy that only covers up to $30,000,” she said. “We’ve had a couple attorneys take a look at it to make sure there wasn’t some other possible coverage. But very good attorneys have not been able to find anything else.”

The unexpected costs have pinched the shelter’s budget, forcing it to solicit donations from the wider community. Thompson has directed much of those efforts to donors who contributed to the building’s capital campaign five years ago.

Thompson said the Pov has successfully raised $105,000 to date. Combined with the $30,000 insurance policy, it has just $15,000 left to go.

“We cannot handle an extra $150,000 expense in our budget,” she said.

To help cover the final gap, Missoula County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to direct $8,000 in contingency funds earmarked for community assistance. The contribution exhausts what remains in the county’s contingency pool for the duration of this fiscal year.

“It seems like a good use of our contingency funds,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “I’m glad we didn’t exhaust it all earlier.”

Thompson said a clog that began in the kitchen area on May 8 led to the catastrophic plumbing failure. It occurred during high volume at the shelter.

The blockage caused sewage to back up and inundate portions of the building, including the basement sleeping quarters, the kitchen and food storage areas.

“It ran into the kitchen and essentially ruined all the food in the kitchen, and it ran into our walk-in cooler and ruined all the food there before it proceeded to run down into the ceiling in the men’s dorm,” she said. “It meant the entire ceiling had to be ripped out, all our HVAC systems and sprinkler systems had to be turned off, and it caused us to close the entire basement of the Pov.”

The men’s dorm typically sleeps around 56 clients while the entire basement accommodates 96 sleeping spaces. The basement has been closed for more than a month, though it’s projected to reopen on June 28.

“We’re operating a secondary location for folks to stay at the Salvation Army,” Thompson said. “We’re sleeping everyone else creatively at the Pov.”

Thompson said the shelter is taking preemptive steps to ensure the plumbing never fails again. A plumber was expected to examine the overall system this week.

The shelter also has reached out to other high-volume facilities in Missoula, including St. Patrick Hospital, to explore their preemptive measures. A team who helped construct the building may also offer suggestions, Thompson said.

“Our building is probably the hardest working building in term of the number of people it serves – in terms of showers and laundry, and the soup kitchen that serves 500 to 600 meals per day,” she said. “We’re having a plumber come in and take a scope through all our plumbing to see if there’s any problems we should be aware of.”