Work is expected to begin in the coming weeks on a project for the City of Prescott to purchase and expand the building that houses the Prescott Area Food Pantry at 911 Pearl St. The facility will include a kitchen where senior meals will be prepared and COVID testing space, as well as an expanded food pantry. At left is the current food pantry space. At right is the adjacent space where expansion will take place. Photo by John McLoone
With construction bids high, Prescott accepts grant dollars for food pantry expansion project

By John McLoone

PRESCOTT – The Prescott City Council agreed Monday night May 9 to increase the grant request for expansion of the Prescott Area Food Pantry facility. Following a closed session discussion, the council voted unanimously to send a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Administration to accept an additional $494,100 in COVID Community Development Block Grant funding. The city will also have to put an additional $25,000 toward the project.

The project has been in the planning stages since 2020 when the building where the food pantry is located, at 911 Pearl St., was going to go on the real estate market. The building formerly was part of the River Heights Motel and housed a pool and community space. The food pantry is located on the east end of the building. The project will allow for the food pantry to expand serving community families in need. It also will have a kitchen facility, and the prep for the local senior meal program will be run from the facility. There also will be COVID testing in the renovated building.

The city’s initial grant request approved by the DOA was for $944,600. The city accepted the grant in February 2021. The project was described in the city’s application for grant funding as follows: “The project will include the purchase of the 7,200 sq. ft. building by the City of Prescott that the Food Pantry currently is renting a portion of. The Food Pantry will remodel and expand its portion of the building to increase food storage and shelving space and provide the food pan- try's director with a secure ovce space which is where clientele personal and financial in formation is kept. Currently, the director’s ovce is located in an unsecured hallway. A senior meal prep commercial kitchen will be constructed in the vacant portion of the building to prepare meals to be delivered to senior households. This work will include installation of a commercial-grade kitchen with fixed appliances such as, but not limited to, ovens, hood vents, cook tops, washing stations, and walk-in freezer and cooler. Additional food preparation space will be included to enable the Food Pantry to break down bulk food donations and repackage them into smaller single and family-sized portions for limited-to moderate-income residents. Currently, the food pantry is prohibited from doing this under state law without having a commercial kitchen. A former ovce space will be remodeled for COVID testing and vaccinations. The project will also include upgrades to building mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems in support of the project as well as creating an accessible parking lot and entry to the building.”

City Administrator Matt Wolf said construction bids were considerably higher than expected. Plans now are also for the food pantry to take ownership of the facility from the city upon construction completion.

“Bids for the 911 Pearl St. project were received this past March. The lowest bid was from Market & Johnson for $1,190,000, which was $505,900 over the anticipated bid amount. The original CDBG application called for the city to spend $25,000 of their own funds if there were costs over before any additional CDBG funds were added. As a result, Cedar Corporation put together a letter to the Department of Administration requesting an additional $494,100. The Department of Administration has tentatively agreed to the amount but would require that the city pay the first $25,000," a memo from Wolf to the city council states. “The city is proposing to accept the additional funds and take the $25,000 out of the 2022 contingency funds of $50,000. A draft of an agreement is attached that would sell the property for $1 after the project upgrades on the building are complete to the food pantry. The food pantry would be required to maintain the building as a food pantry for 15 years or it would be surrendered back to the city as a result. Council will have the opportunity to review and approve the agreement with the Department of Administration and the final agreement with the Prescott Food Pantry once it is agreed on by both parties before any funds are spent.”

The project was initially slated to be completed in September, but now Prescott Area Food Pantry Director Peter French is hopeful everything is completed by Dec. 31.

“They were going to start in January or February,” he said. “I would suspect hopeful- ly by the first of the year we should have it operational.”

French said that within the last month there was a marked uptick in demand for the food pantry.

He said that during COVID while pandemic checks were being sent to residents, demand was level, but that changed in April.

“March was on par with the way it’s been in COVID. April doubled in one month. In May, we’re on the increase again,” French said. “During COVID, people were getting the excess money the government was sending. Now, we’re seeing an increase again. They’re seeing this through all of Pierce County. Everybody seems to have an uptick.”

Residents still have to call in orders to the food pantry, as health guidelines still don’t allow for people to come inside the facility. Volunteers put orders together and bring them out to the waiting customers.

French said a donation envelope will go out with summer utility bills seeking funds to help stock the new kitchen and for other needs.

Anyone interested in donating can send checks to: Prescott Area Food Pantry, 911 Pearl St., Prescott, WI 54021.

May 17, 2022