Buffalo City Mission CEO Stuart Harper looked skyward and thought, "it's really real" as a tall crane lifted a long, white steel beam from ground level to four stories up, representing the final, ceremonial piece in the infrastructure that will become an expanded mission.
Community leaders gathered Tuesday morning at 100 East Tupper St. to see the construction milestone reached. Behind the present City Mission structure rise girders and beams that will make up the new $15 million community center that is scheduled to open in spring of 2020.
"For more than 100 years the City Mission and this community have worked together for the betterment of every neighbor," Harper said. "Today, with the final beam in place, we once again stand together to recognize our future together in making lasting impact."
Officials said the community center building will allow the City Mission to expand its emergency shelter, housing and care services while offering new community and preventative services in a first-floor space. The area, which will be known as "The Center," will include a medical clinic, mental health services, addiction services and other supports along with a food and clothing pantry and a space where meals will be served year-round.
Approximately $12.3 million of the City Mission's $15 million fundraising goal has been raised, is committed or is in the process, said Aubrey Calhoun, the associate director of operations. She said that compared to similar capital campaigns, the mission is "in a really good place."
"We will hit it," Calhoun said, "and my role is always to exceed it."
Mayor Byron Brown made a pitch to those present to help fill the gap, said he would be making a personal donation from "my not-very-deep pockets" and also said the city would be seeing if it could provide more funding. Calhoun called the mayor's pitch "awesome."
Brown had received an update from Calhoun Monday regarding the fundraising.
"One of the things that Aubrey told me was while this facility is definitely going to be built, that the fundraising isn't complete," Brown said. "When Aubrey told me that yesterday, that touched my heart, that this facility that is so critical in our community, still has a gap.
"I know many of us have been at different places in the community, some of our vibrant commercial districts, getting on to the expressway, getting off the expressway ... where we have seen people in the community, asking for money. That is the reality of it. People in the community looking like they are struggling. And I know so many of us have asked ourselves: What can we do to help?
"The answer is a very simple one: Give to the City Mission Community Center project. It will be transformational in the lives of the people who are struggling in our community."
The mission has continued to provide services during construction. The new building is being constructed in the area formerly occupied by the back parking lot. When the new structure is opened next spring, the old building will be demolished, with a parking lot paved on that spot, facing Tupper between Ellicott and Oak streets.
Calhoun was one many staff members or supporters who signed the girder with a black permanent marker at the ceremony. She said her signature included the message "Praise the Lord! April 2019."
"It's a total blessing. To see the last steel piece of the steel structure of this building ... it makes it real," Calhoun said. "When people drive by on the 33 and see it, they'll know change is coming. That's what this is all about."