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Construction on new Rock County Human Services building has begun


Remodeling of an abandoned south-side grocery store is underway, with Rock County Human Services and Job Center offices scheduled to move there in 2022.

The county board approved a construction contract with J.P. Cullen & Sons in August for $21.5 million. The county bought the property at 1717 Center Ave. in May 2019 for $4.4 million. Another $2 million is earmarked for furnishings and equipment.

That price tag fits with an estimate of $21.2 million to $32.2 million made by a consultant that studied county space needs in 2018.

The building’s exterior will be largely unchanged with the exception of some skylights and sod installed at the front of the building, County Administrator Josh Smith said.

The county is following the consultant’s recommendations, including moving Human Services out of the old county Health Care Center, which was deemed inefficient and is slated for demolition once it is vacated.

The remodeled building will include a commercial pharmacy that will dispense drugs prescribed by psychiatrists for county clients but not to the public. Medicaid pays for the drugs. The operator, Genoa Pharmacy, is the same one that now supplies drugs through a county contract, and it will pay rent. Smith said the rent amount has not been finalized.

A retail pharmacy would not be able to provide the needed services for the same price, Smith said.

A commercial drug-testing company, Averhealth, also will have space in the building. Averhealth is now in the Old Towne Mall in Janesville. The tests would be convenient for clients who receive other services in the building, Smith said.

County officials refer to the project by its address number, 1717, so they don’t have to refer to “the old Pick ‘n Save,” Smith said.

Sid Schwartz 

Workers remove rubble from the site of the former Pick ‘n Save store on Janesville’s Center Avenue. J.P. Cullen & Sons has the contract to convert the building for county use.

A formal name is in the works. One county board committee has approved the name Rock County Resource Center. The county board Staff Committee is considering a proposal to change that to the Daniel Hale Williams Rock County Resource Center.

Williams was an Edgerton barber who was an apprentice to a Janesville doctor and became a physician. Williams’ accomplishments include founding the first Black-owned hospital in America and performing the world’s first successful heart surgery, in 1893 in Chicago.

Williams Hall on the UW-Whitewater at Rock County campus is named after him.

The old health care center, which now houses offices of the Human Services Department, medical examiner and Public Health Department, is slated to be razed after all of those tenants move out, likely in late 2022 or 2023, Smith said.

Other upcoming county building projects include:

  • The county IT center, now at the Health Care Center, will move into a new building across County F in 2022. The county’s computer technology operations, including servers and other equipment, will be relocated for an estimated $11.5 million. Construction will start next year.

The price tag will include technology upgrades to the county 911 dispatch center, which will be next door to the new IT center.

  • The 91-year-old Pinehurst building, which houses the Rock County Sheriff’s Office administration, emergency operations center, and dormitories for work-release and other low-risk inmates, is scheduled to be replaced in 2022.

A new building would be built near the jail before the Pinehurst building would be torn down. The community corrections bureau, now in a nearby building, would relocate to the new building, as well.

The proposed 2021 budget includes $4.4 million for engineering and architectural planning services. The total construction cost is now estimated at $40 million. Demolition of the Pinehurst building was estimated last year to cost $500,000. The total project cost was estimated last year to be $40.7 million

  • The master plan for the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds called for a new grandstand, additional pavilions and a replacement for the Craig Center. No design work has been done yet.

In the meantime, fairgrounds maintenance projects to improve blacktop, electrical systems, and drainage and roof replacements have been done, Smith said.

The 2018 facilities study suggested a price tag of $1.7 million to $5.5 million.

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COVID-19 already far deadlier in Rock County than recent flu seasons

Rock County is about to enter a season where COVID-19 meets the latest batch of influenza viruses.

Nationwide, critics of virus safety precautions have falsely claimed COVID-19 is equal to the flu in how it affects health. Some have asked why COVID-19 is such a big deal when people die every year from the flu.

COVID-19 has been about nine times more deadly than the most recently recorded flu season, according to data from Rock County’s health department.

The number of flu deaths totals in the tens of thousands in the U.S. each year. By contrast, COVID-19 has killed more than 200,000 people in this country, said Benjamin Chao, a family medicine provider at Dean Medical Group-Janesville East.

Since COVID-19 first appeared in Rock County in March, the disease’s mortality rate has been 23.9 for every 100,000 people.

Thirty-nine people have died from COVID-19 in the county so far.

Flu mortality rates from 2015 to 2018 have been 2.5 per 100,000 people with the exception of 2016, which was 1.2 deaths per 100,000 people.

Health officials have predicted this flu season could be worse than any other because of COVID-19. Flu hospitalizations on top of COVID-19 hospitalizations could stress health care systems, Chao said.

Local hospitals still have the capacity to treat patients, but other hospitals in the state have reported being full or stretched thin, prompting the state to open a field hospital at the State Fairgrounds in West Allis.

Although not as deadly as COVID-19, flu is still a serious illness that people should be concerned about, said Erica Mathis, a spokeswoman for SSM Health.

Flu is a respiratory disease that causes congestion, cough, sore throat, fever, body chills, fatigue, body aches and headaches. Flu symptoms tend to appear more quickly after infection than COVID-19 symptoms, Chao said.

COVID-19 cases generally last longer than most flu cases—typically about two weeks compared to one week for the flu. Some people report COVID-19 symptoms lasting for weeks and months.

Both diseases are particularly dangerous for elderly people or those with pre-existing health conditions or compromised immune systems.

The biggest difference between the two, Chao said, is the flu has both a vaccine and proven courses of treatment, such as Tamiflu.

Flu vaccinations will be key this year, and Chao recommends that everyone older than 6 months of age get a flu shot.

The shot is safe for pregnant women, and contrary to some claims, it will not make people sick, Mathis said.

Providers already have seen increased demand for flu shots this year, Chao said. He suspects that is because the pandemic is on everyone’s minds.

About 16% of Rock County residents have received flu vaccines for the 2020-21 flu year, said Nick Zupan, an epidemiologist for the Rock County Public Health Department.

That’s more than half the 35% of Rock County residents who got vaccinated in the entire 2019-20 flu season.

Flu season typically begins at the end of the year and can last until late winter or early spring.

Cases tend to peak in January when the weather is coldest and everyone is stuck inside, Chao said.

Last flu season, at least 144 Rock County residents contracted the flu, though county numbers are likely lower than the actual number of flu cases because many people don’t see a doctor or get tested for the flu, Zupan said.

There are 1,428 active and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Rock County. Since March, the county has recorded 4,292 cases.