Concerns continue for possible relocation of county agencies

County human service agencies may soon be playing a game of musical chairs.

Under consideration since the merger of the county Department of Job and family Services with the Washington County Children Services agency began is how to put the soon-to-be combined agency under one roof.

“One of our goals is to maximize county space,” explained Flite Freimann, the director of Washington County Job and Family Services. “But this is also a great opportunity for each human service agency to determine whether they’re in the correct space. I’ve talked with the Board of Developmental Disabilities, Behavioral Health Board, Washington County Family and Children First and the county health department, too.”

He said ultimately, Children Services and JFS need to be in the same building for two reasons; to improve service experience for the families served so that referrals between programs can be done seamlessly, and so that the combined agency can be eligible for future federal grants and funding sources requiring they be under one roof.

Options include a move of JFS staff to the Children Services building on Davis Avenue or vice versa with both housed at 1115 Gilman Ave.

But what also must be considered is who would then occupy the vacated space and who may have to move to make room.

The Gilman Avenue site has 22,000 square feet of space, but more available office spaces, Freimann explained.

“And 204 Davis Ave. has 29,000 square feet but fewer offices, though a lot more space to grow in the unfinished basement,” he said. “The build-out would be in the basement if the commissioners moved forward on that option. We’ve hired Pickering and Associates to tell us how much it would cost to put in more offices there and how much it would cost to add the needs of Children Services at Gilman.”

The present assumption is that there’s room for 50 additional offices in the basement of 204 Davis Ave., and the Gilman building would require enclosures built in the current common areas to accommodate visitation rooms.

“We’d be at maximum capacity at Gilman,” Freimann said.

But another tenant in the Davis building has a say in the moving process.

“Ohio law grants unto the Board of Elections the authority to decide where it’s going to be, they can’t tell us where to move,” said Dennis Sipe, chairman of the county BOE. “We don’t have carte blanche to spend money, but we have the authority to select our location independent of the influence of any office.”

Currently, the BOE office is located in the basement of 204 Davis Ave., a move determined after 2014-15 consideration of challenges in the Washington County Courthouse.

Sipe said storage of machines and voting documentation, handicap accessibility, voting space and even access during flooding in the area must all be considered.

“Say a flood hits when we’re conducting early voting, that affects access,” said Sipe.

“We are held to the highest federal standards when it comes to accessibility not only into the building with door poundage and how fast a door closes but even how to get there,” he explained. “Our current location has worked out well for us, but the board has not made any decision concerning our new position on moving out. We’re studying this and are certainly open to looking.”

One suggestion made is to build upon the 26 acres of county-owned land available between Davis Avenue and Colegate Drive, and another is to utilize the recently purchased Chase Bank drive-thru (1,992 square feet) behind the Washington County Courthouse.

The cost to build new has yet to be considered, said Freimann.

The Chase building Sipe said, “might be doable.”

“I’d have to check the square footage and flood data, my office building across the street I remember was an island in 2004,” he said.

Washington County Engineer Roger Wright said while he doesn’t recall either the Gilman building flooding nor 309 Fourth St. (the drive-thru) flooding since 1999 the roads to access the buildings are a different story.

“Gilman Avenue itself goes under and sometimes Slaughterhouse hill gets cut off,” he explained. “When that happens we open up back access gates from Slaughterhouse so that people can come down and turn into (the county engineering) lot, so we keep a high water exit/entrance.”

He said if such an event were to occur during an early voting season with the BOE placed at 1115 Gilman Ave., he would be concerned for the state of the road.

“It’s gravel, but we’d make sure it’s available if needed, though it would be a less than optimal situation,” he said.

Washington Soil and Water Conservation District Administrator Sandy Lahmers said that the only building of the three under consideration which is not considered to have any flood risk is the Davis Avenue location.

“The terms have changed, what we use to call the 500-year and 100-year floodplain have been renamed,” she explained. “One hundred-year is now explained as you have a 1 percent chance of flooding annually, and the chance for what used to be 500-year is now 0.2 percent chance of flooding annually.”

She said both the Gilman Avenue location and the Fourth Street location are considered to have a 0.2 percent chance of flooding annually, although that’s for the sites themselves, not their access roads.

“The rain patterns have changed so much, and the events are so much bigger than they used to be that the change makes sense,” Lahmers added.

Freimann said the next steps as the shifts are considered include:

• Feb. 20: presentation to the Washington County Board of Elections at 8 a.m. to discuss options within county buildings addressing requirements for BOE.

• March 1: receipt of Pickering and Associates study with initial cost estimates and potential recommendation for moves.

“That study I can then take to the Washington County Commissioners with cost plans and total dollar figures and they can consider any other moves of other agencies,” he said. “I’ve focused exclusively on the human services, we’re never going to get to one building but if we can get to two or three buildings in one general location then if you’re accidentally dropped off at the wrong one it’s a short walk over to where you need to be.”

What’s next:

• Feb. 20: Public meeting of the Washington County Board of Elections, both to certify petitions for the May primary and to hear from Flite Freimann on a proposed re-location.

• March 1: Anticipated completion of cost analysis and comparison for upgrading either 1115 Gilman Ave. or 204 Davis Ave. to combine Washington County Department of Job and Family Services and Washington County Children Services.

Source: Flite Freimann and Dennis Sipe.