New health department building moving forward

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Plans for a new county health department building returned to their original course last week, after discussions seemed to indicate a different direction.

The countyís building committee voted unanimously to recommend construction of a new health department facility and the demolition of the current building at their Thursday, Sept. 14, meeting.

That course of action had seemed to be the countyís original plan before frustrations over the plans for the new building and a perceived lack of input from the building committee led to a reconsideration of the project.

The committee held a work session on Sept.6 to discuss the plans for a new building.

Health Department Director Angie Faulkner expressed her frustration with the design process at the work session. She felt that James Kennon, the architect handling the project, was not responsive enough to the departmentís requirements for the new space.

Commissioner Mike Waggoner felt that the committee had been left out of important decisions regarding the project.

The consensus at the work session leaned toward building a new facility for the Health Department but also keeping the existing building, making necessary upgrades and repairs, and using it for additional county office space.

At that meeting, Waggoner asked if anyone was in favor of tearing the building down, and none of the 12 commissioners in attendance said that they should.

By the Sept. 14 meeting, opinions had shifted back to the original plan, however.

Faulkner said that she was satisfied with the most recent revisions to the plans submitted to her by Kennon.

The shape of the new building was adjusted in order to fit it to the side of the current building, fronting East Church Street.

While the 7,700 square foot plan is smaller than the 8,400 square feet that Faulkner had initially proposed, she said that the flow of the building and the increase in clinic rooms from the three available in the current building to the 10 proposed in the new plan would greatly increase her departmentís ability to serve the public.

Kennon estimated the cost of the building under $200 per square foot, which would meet the $1.5 million that the commission approved for the project in May.

Reusing the old building no longer seemed to be a concern, either.

ďI think itís ridiculous to keep shoveling money into this old building,Ē said Commissioner Wesley Neece.

Waggoner and Commissioner Phil Willis agreed.

Commissioner Toby Adams initially said that he didnít think that the county should tear down the existing building, although he later seconded the motion to do just that after the new building is complete.

The committee voted 4-0 to recommend to the full commission to move ahead with the new building and to demolish the old building. Kennon estimated roughly 12 months to completion of the project.

The condition of the Health Department building has been of concern for years.

The main part of the existing Health Department building on Legion Avenue was built in 1965 and added on to in 1996.

One corner of the building, part of the 1996 addition, has been undercut by poor drainage on the site. The foundation has begun to settle, leading to wide cracks starting to appear in the block walls of the building.

In an April 29, 2015, Tribune article, Faulkner told the committee of electrical issues, problems with heating and cooling, and water damage.

At the September workshop, she said that four inches had been shaved off of her office door in order for it to open or close, due to how far off square the door frame had moved.

It is difficult to tell what decisions were made or discussions had regarding the Health Department building back in 2015.

There are only three sets of meeting minutes for the building committee on file in the County Mayorís office for the entire year.

Only two sets of minutes are on file from 2016. State law is clear that minutes from public meetings be available for inspection within seven days of the meeting.

Minutes for the May meeting covered by a Tribune article from May 6, 2015, in which Kennon estimated the costs of renovation versus new construction, are not available.