The borough-run Gateway Recreation Center. (KRBD file photo)

Ketchikan-area officials plan to convert the recreation center into a 24-hour homeless shelter. That’s according to Donita O’Dell of the nonprofit First City Homeless Services. She says the idea is to keep homeless people off the streets where they could catch the coronavirus or unwittingly infect others.

“Giving people a place to shelter is the best way to protect both individuals who are experiencing homelessness as well as the community at large,” she said in a phone interview Thursday.

Her organization’s current shelter at 400 Main Street is closed for six to eight hours every day.

O’Dell says the borough’s recreation center on Schoenbar Road will be able to house and feed at least 30 people. Once it’s up and running, she says her group’s downtown facility will close to the public. It’ll be used to prepare meals for the new shelter.

She says she’s interviewing potential new employees — it’ll take more than twice as many staff to run the shelter at the rec center around the clock.

“We’re just looking at significantly more employees, we’re probably going to be looking at about 15 total, and currently we operate with around six,” O’Dell said. “So it’s a pretty big step up.”

It’s unclear exactly when the move would happen. Officials are still working on details of the plan. The recreation center has been closed since mid-March in line with other public building closures to enforce social distancing.