A plan to house two Lee County departments in one building appears to be moving in a new direction.
The Lee County Health Department has been renting a four-story, brick building at 2218 Avenue H in Fort Madison for about 20 years.
Administrator Julie Schilling says when the department first moved in, there were 22 employees maintaining six programs. She says the numbers have now jumped to 37 employees managing 20 programs.
“We have four staff (members) in hallways and we have staff sharing small offices as well. It is not set up, truly, for a functional building.”
Schilling says it is not just about space because there is also limited handicapped accessibility plus other serious infrastructure issues.
“We will need to look additional costs for new furnaces in the future and new electrical wiring. When you look at all of those costs, we figure that we should be looking at a different location.”
The Lee County Health Department looked at buildings throughout the county to no avail.
That led it to start working with the conservation department, which is also in an undersized building, about two years ago.
They designed a roughly $4-million facility along Highway 61 near the Lee County Jail.
The concept never caught on with residents, though, so fundraising never caught on.
Schilling says the Board of Health now wants to go it alone, based in part on feedback from more than a dozen informational meetings about the joint facility.
“Some people were not in favor of the joint facility and recommended that we have a separate building for the health department (and) a separate building for the conservation department.”
The message has been passed on to the Lee County Board of Supervisors.
Supervisor Matt Pflug says he understands why people were apprehensive about such a large county building.
“When you start getting up around $3.5-million, $4-million, that scares people. In the times we are in, people are taxed out and costs are rising on everything.”
Pflug says it is important, though, to have a quality health department building.
“I think it’s good that you have a good storefront, a good face. The perception of people is, you know, I want to do business with them because it looks good and they are professional.”
Pflug is the county board’s liaison to the health department. He says it should not fall on the backs of the employees to raise the money needed to make the building a reality.
“It really wasn’t fair to those folks to work 8-10 hours (daily), and then all of the sudden you are asking them to go out push this project. It’s the responsibility of the Board of Supervisors.”
The supervisors talked about the new direction of the project for just a short time. There was no vote because they were in a workshop.
Pflug says the board must decide whether it wants to re-examine existing buildings for health department-only space or prepare for a possible bond issue.
A construction consultant for the county told the supervisors that a 10,000 square foot building near the jail could be built for about $2-million, but he stressed that is an extremely rough estimate.
Lost in the discussion during the workshop was the matter of what would happen to the Conservation Department, which is still interested in a new building.
Director Tom Buckley says the proposed change does not leave his department out in the cold.
“With the split here, now that does give us a better opportunity to get money, particiularly from a place like REAP or maybe Scenic Byways because they tend to favor things that are more in the public use spector.”
Buckley plans to talk to his department’s board of directors and foundation board about setting aside close to $200,000 for future grant matches.
One supervisor said after the meeting that he would bring up the issue at least once a month, possibly weekly, to make sure a resolution is reached.
As for the Lee County Health Department, only time will tell if it will be able to take advantage of a nearly two-decade growth spurt and get into a more comfortable building.