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Too Much Bread?

Catholic Charities’ Our Daily Bread Project, Built With Taxpayer Funds, Looks Pricey

Christopher Myers
ON THE RISE: The new Our Daily Bread complex may be a bit more pricey than necessary.

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 11/16/2005

The governor, mayor, state comptroller, and Cardinal praised the Lord in partnership with the government on Sept. 29, standing across the street from Baltimore’s Central Booking and Intake Center. It was the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Our Daily Bread Employment Center planned by nonprofit social-services agency Catholic Charities.

“Catholic Charities was honored to be chosen by Baltimore City to establish this unique resource center,” the organization’s executive director, Harold A. Smith, said. “We are equally grateful for the broad-based community support that includes the city, state, and federal governments, and thousands of individuals, businesses, and foundations, that have helped us in raising the $14 million to build this wonderful facility.”

The new facility, scheduled to be completed by late 2006, will include a soup kitchen, a live-in job skills training center, offices, and classrooms. Its owners hope it will serve a quarter million meals and help 100 homeless men beat their addictions and join the work force each year. The center will relocate and combine the existing Our Daily Bread soup kitchen with an expansion of two existing job-training programs, an “eviction prevention” center, and other services. The building will stand three stories tall and encompass 52,000 square feet of interior space, according to the charity.

Catholic Charities has said the facility will cost at least $14 million. Yet a construction expert says a building like this one can typically be built for about $7 million, and an internet-based cost calculator returns figures lower than $6 million. City Paper has asked Catholic Charities to break down the cost of the project three times since June. The answers have raised more questions.

Our Daily Bread soup kitchen has resided at 411 Cathedral St., just across from the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Central Branch, for 14 years. The location has rankled some business leaders and irritated the librarians, who have complained about drunks sleeping in the library. Our Daily Bread founder Joann Margaret Abromaitis, who died Oct. 14, felt the soup kitchen’s location was part of its mission: to make the homeless visible to people who would rather forget about them.

Efforts to move the soup kitchen over the years continued, however. Orioles owner/trial lawyer Peter Angelos bought one property and optioned another for separate proposed Our Daily Bread relocation plans in the late 1990s. Both times the project came to naught. (The location of the new employment center, adjacent to the jail, is several blocks away from the city’s main business corridor.)

In 2002 the city of Baltimore bought the land Catholic Charities will build on for $440,000, donated it to the charity this year, then it kicked in another $2 million in cash to fund project, says Kerrie Burch-DeLuca, Catholic Charities’ director of communications. (The mayor’s office puts that donation at $3 million, total.) The state of Maryland is giving the charity $7 million, according to the governor’s office, and federal government donations amount to $450,000. In all, at least $10 million of the $14 million Catholic Charities says it has raised for the project comes from taxpayers.

The nonprofit, like most social-service providers, depends on government funding. According to its 2002 tax return (the most recent available at the online charity clearing house GuideStar), $67.6 million of the charity’s $87.7 million annual revenue came from “program service revenue including government fees and contracts.” In other words, taxpayers subsidize more than 77 cents out of every dollar Catholic Charities spends comes from taxpayers.

Catholic Charities, however, is a private business, not subject to the state’s open records law. “To begin with, I can tell you right now that I will not share the actual bid for the construction,” Burch-DeLuca says. “$14 million is the total cost. I will say that we did work with the city and state to fulfill their requirements. We had multiple bidders and we took the best one.”

Catholic Charities has released varying cost figures for the Our Daily Bread Employment Center project. In June 2004 Smith told The Sun that the charity had already raised $17 million for the project. In June 2005 the charity said its goal was $25 million. Asked by City Paper to break down the project’s costs, Burch-DeLuca said then that design and outfitting of the new building, plus moving expenses including moving My Sister’s Place, a transitional housing program for battered women and their children around the corner from the current Our Daily Bread location, would total about $15 million. She said the project would also “include the renovation of two townhouses.” The additional $10 million the charity hoped to raise, she said in June, would form an endowment to support the operating costs of both Our Daily Bread and My Sister’s Place.

Now Burch-DeLuca says the variable figures all fit within the charity’s $54 million capital campaign (of which $50 million has been raised) to build the new Our Daily Bread, move and expand My Sister’s Place, and renovate St. Vincent’s Center, a Baltimore County home for emotionally troubled children. She says the $7 million state contribution will help pay for both the Our Daily Bread and My Sister’s Place components, and that the My Sister’s Place move and expansion would total about $3 million, in addition to the $14 million the charity will spend to build and move into the new Our Daily Bread. “There has been a certain amount of confusion all along because of the endowment component,” Burch-DeLuca says. “People were under the impression that was all hard costs. I’ll take responsibility for that.”

Calls to the general contractor, CAM Construction, and the engineering firm, Morabito Consultants, were unreturned.

If Catholic Charities plans to spend $14 million building and outfitting the new building and moving its programs, it will likely be spending more than is usual.

“This cost per square foot sounds pretty ridiculous to me!” Kim Kennedy, manager of forecasting at McGraw-Hill Construction/Dodge, an industry trade publication, writes in an e-mail to City Paper. “For McGraw-Hill Construction’s dormitory category (which includes college dorms, military barracks, etc.), we have estimated a $136 [per square foot] average for all projects this year.” At $136 per square foot, Our Daily Bread’s 52,000 square feet would total just over $7 million. Kennedy speculated that the charity could be including “soft costs”—things like architects’ fees, government permitting, and finance charges—into its $14 million figure. But those are usually estimated at about 20 percent of a project’s total cost. Given that the city of Baltimore sold Catholic Charities the Our Daily Bread site for $1, and that most of the money to build appears donated, not borrowed, the government permitting, financing, and other soft costs might be lower than usual.

Kennedy supplied a Dodge Report, used by contractors to monitor work they might want to bid on as subcontractors, for the Our Daily Bread project, which estimated the construction costs between $8 million and $10 million. Using the average of those, “that makes the cost per square foot at $173,” Kennedy wrote, “which is a little more believable.” Kennedy says that for a small project like Our Daily Bread the construction cost estimates are probably supplied by the general contractor, architect, or the project’s owner, but she does not know how this case was estimated. “It still looks a bit high to me,” she concludes.

“I don’t know that I agree with that statement at all,” Burch-DeLuca counters. “We . . . took the bid that we felt was the very best one, and I can tell you that price was a very big component of that.”

Asked if there were more than two bidders, DeLuca says, “I told you I am not going to divulge that.”

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