YouthBuild Gives Public Housing a Makeover

Public housing…try to think for a moment of what that looks like to you. Over the past several decades, public housing projects have been notorious for their substandard quality of life. Images may be conjured upon hearing that word of less-than-desirable homes, in the worst part of town, with little concern for the happiness and well-being of those inhabiting them. That stereotype is exactly what the YouthBuild program is helping to dissolve.

Previous concept for public housing.

Current YouthBuild project at Pearl St/Park Ave.

YouthBuild focuses on helping youth, ages 18-24, to achieve their G.E.D., while applying themselves to construction projects throughout the Denver Metro Area. Sounds like a pretty typical non-profit initiative, right? WRONG! After being associated with Mile High Youth Corps for the past year and a half, I imagined that the program was as simple as it sounded. However, upon visiting the current work site at Park Avenue and 23rd, I learned that YouthBuild was on the front-line of progressive sustainable development in the United States.

Living in Denver’s Uptown neighborhood last year, I would often walk to the grocery store and see the bustling work site. Sharp, loft-style high-rises began to line both sides of Park Avenue as the year progressed and I often thought to myself, “How do I score a place in there?” It’s not every day that city public housing projects have that kind of curb appeal. Though the building aesthetics, surrounding amenities and location are all overly desirable, none of those factors are as impressive as the construction aspects and infrastructure.

The Park Avenue project is shooting for a LEED Platinum rating (the highest level of environmental standards). This kind of ranking is no easy feat. To gain the LEED Platinum title, the construction team and developers implemented environmentally sensitive materials and practices into each step of construction. For example, the heating/cooling of the building is conducted by a geothermal system. This means that cool air captured under the Earth’s surface in a series of tubes and sent above-ground to cool the homes in the summer, and heat them during the winter. Since the temperature underground is a constant 50-55 degrees, the air is able to offset extreme temperatures in both directions naturally.

In addition to heating and cooling, solar panels cover the roof to supply a portion of the project’s energy needs. The sun also supplies hot water to the site with a heat-harvesting system which allows water to be heated naturally by the sun’s rays. These are examples of some of the common-sense ways that energy and resources can be derived from the Earth with far less effort and environmental impact.

Solar panels on Park Ave project.

Lastly, the current project on Park Avenue also implemented a pre-fabricated building method. This means that the building is actually fully constructed in a remote warehouse, and then disassembled. The structure is then transported to the job site and reconstructed like a piece of furniture purchased from Target. The reason that this technique is so efficient is that it disables poor weather conditions from holding-up work, significantly reduces the risk of damaging materials, cuts costs, and expedites the building time to be completed in only a few months.

Considering the intricacies of the projects taken on by MHYC’s YouthBuild Program brings new light to exactly how much goes into these projects. While the physical environment is being changed with each beam anchored into place, the social environment is strengthening with each individual. Not only does this work have transformative impacts on the youth that get involved, but the benefits resound throughout the community by bringing higher quality and standards to our public housing. Therefore, YouthBuild is helping to shape development trends and to promote environmental awareness, but most importantly, to prove that social change is happening every day in our city.
~Derek Berardi, Outreach and Recruitment Assistant, ACLC ’10

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