Walworth County plans no borrowing for $24.7 million construction project

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Xavier Ward
Monday, February 13, 2017

ELKHORN—Walworth County plans no borrowing to build a $24.7 million health and human services building next year.

The county each year estimates the depreciation of its buildings and sets aside the same amount for future capital projects, County Administrator David Bretl said.

“If the building reduces by $1 million on our books, we put $1 million aside,” Bretl said.

Despite the savings program, the county suspended all other capital projects—outside of transportation projects—to pay for the new human services building. Some departments were able to find money to pay for their own projects, but some were forced to suspend projects, Bretl said.

Bretl said he doesn't anticipate any major tax increases because of the human services building project.

“There's no burden of debt service, there's no interest we're going to be paying on it,” he said.

Building new makes more sense than remodeling the human services building at W4051 County NN, Bretl said.

The new building would stand across from the current facility between the judicial center and Lakeland Healthcare Center, Bretl said.

“Is it penny wise, pound foolish to try to remodel?” Bretl said.

Over time, it would cost the county more to renovate and expand the existing building, making a new building a better investment, he said.

The human services building makes day-to-day operations difficult, said Elizabeth Aldred, director of the department.

Space constraints and lack of modern technology can make life difficult for employees and patrons, Aldred said.

“There's quite a few needs, but if you're talking from a consumer perspective, we need better therapy rooms,” Aldred said.

Some rooms, such as the mail room, house more employees than they were designed to handle, Aldred said. Sometimes 10 or 11 desks are crammed into a small office space.

Because the building was designed as a hospital, it's hard to repurpose some of the rooms, she said. It was not built for community-based programs.

The county Health and Human Services Department offers programs in five divisions: children and family, economic support, aging and disabilities, aid programs such as Meals on Wheels and adult protective services, Aldred said.

“The new building will provide us with an opportunity for consumers to access those services in a more streamlined manner,” Aldred said.

Aldred said the lack of space isn't impacting the department's ability to administer services, but she believes the new building will expand the potential for improvement and starting new services.

Aldred would like to see multiple waiting rooms to accommodate a variety of patients, she said.

Some people show up to receive family services, while others arrive escorted by law enforcement, Aldred said.

The current building is 75,560 square feet. It was built in 1971 as a mental health hospital with wide hallways and small rooms, Nitschke said.

The new building will be smaller--74,150 square feet—but will use space more efficiently.

“There's a lot of dead space,” Aldred said about the existing building.

Eric Nitschke, director of central services in the Walworth County Public Works Department, has been working with health and human services officials and representatives of an architectural firm to determine the needs of the department and options to meet them.

Planning began in 2014, when county officials met with Plunkett Raysich, an architectural firm to draft a needs assessment, Nitschke said. More recently, the county has been working with Venture Architects, he said.

Construction should begin in 2018, Bretl said.

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