The lobby of the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center sometimes becomes a bedroom. The center's only counseling room doubles as one as well.

Last year, the 32-bed facility received 2,196 requests for shelter. Many people were driven to shelters in Baltimore, and others were housed temporarily in motels. But it wasn't unusual for someone to show up late at night, maybe sick or cold. As a result, more than four dozen people slept in the lobby last year, Grassroots Executive Director Andrea Ingram said.

So Ingram and the staff members of Grassroots have been working to expand and renovate the center. A campaign to raise the $4 million needed for the project is scheduled to start this morning.

The 60 employees of Grassroots not only operate the shelter, but also two national suicide hotlines, a local crisis hotline and a mobile crisis team, which responds to domestic problems and other emergencies. Many of the calls and crises are related to domestic violence and sexual assault.

Initially, Grassroots envisioned far more than an expansion of its facility next to Atholton High School on Freetown Road in Columbia. It wanted to merge its operations with Howard County's Domestic Violence Center on Twin Knolls Road and the Sexual Trauma Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center on Patuxent Woods Drive, both in Columbia, and build a combined facility, requiring about 30,000 square feet. Its site on Freetown was not big enough.

Sites were proposed for the new building, but they repeatedly drew objections from neighborhood groups. So the idea for a joint center was finally abandoned, and Grassroots officials decided to focus on an expansion of the Freetown road shelter.

"I'm very excited that we have the ability to get a better facility," said Melissa Phillips, Grassroots' senior crisis counselor. "But I'm disappointed we couldn't all be together."

The planned renovation will double the size of the center, from 9,000 square feet to a little more than 20,000, allowing officials to increase the number of beds from 32 to 55. Office space also will be added. The county's mobile crisis team will no longer have to share an office with two full-time Grassroots workers. The employees who work on desks in a hallway will finally have a room.

The building will have more storage space, so the conference room will no longer be used to store supplies, boxes and donations. Until last week, a donated sofa took up much of the conference room's floor space. In addition, the center's 20 counselors, who work staggered shifts over 24 hours in a single office, will have more space. "If we have more than four people, we're on top of each other," Phillips said about the current situation.

If the fundraising campaign is successful, construction of the center should begin in 2006 and last about a year. By mid-2007 the renovated center will have enough space that nobody should be sleeping in the lobby, even during an emergency.