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Jackson considers renovations for service centers

fr jaxcenterThe large, cavernous room at the heart of Jackson County’s Community Services Center doesn’t see much action these days. It’s no longer open to the public. A trash can sits solemnly collecting water dripping from a leak in the ceiling. 

But the room’s parquet floor still hints and harkens to better days gone by.

“When I came to work here 21 years ago this floor was absolutely beautiful,” recalled Paula Carden, gazing around the room. 

The room is tentatively slated for dramatic renovations. There are plans to transform the lofty chamber into two stories of workable space, adding thousands of square feet that currently drifts in the open air. 

The cavern’s transformation is part of the larger plans to revamp the Community Services Center, providing much-needed space for the county’s health department. Carden, director of the department, is excited about the possibilities, but she’s keeping her expectations in check — renovation plans have been on the table before, to no avail.

“We’ve been this far before,” Carden said. “I tend not to be too excited until we have a groundbreaking.”

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Although Jackson County has had some preliminary plans drawn up for the center’s renovation, the price tag is formidable. The project involves renovating both the Community Services Center and the Skyland Services Center, and shifting departments around between the two facilities. 

“This is a pretty expensive project to do,” Carden said. “Six to eight million is a lot of money.”

But, she said, the renovations are sorely needed. They will allow the health department, as well as the county’s environmental services department to stretch their legs. And their legs, to be sure, are currently cramped within too-small confines. 

“We stick people everywhere,” Carden said, giving a tour of the facility. 

Walking through the health department’s receiving area, the director steps into a small enclave of offices. She opens one of the doors to reveal a space about the size of a utility closet — in fact, the area used to be a closet.

“This is an office,” Carden laughed, explaining that the space was supposed to accommodate a family seeking health services. “A mom and possibly two or three children need to be in this room.”

Moving on to another office, she reveals more of the same.

“This too is a closet,” Carden said. “It has no ventilation.”

Aside from space issues, the center also has other problems that need tending. The heating and ventilation system is in “bad, bad shape” — there are fans and humidifiers set up throughout the facility — and the electric system is inadequate.

“We can’t have coffee pots, microwaves and refrigerators,” Carden noted. “We just can’t carry it all with all the computers.”

The health director is excited that the county is again discussing the possibility of taking on improvement at the two service centers. It’s been a long time coming.

“For the last 20, 25 years we’ve been cramped for space,” Carden said. “It’s gotten worse as we’ve grown and as our clients have grown.”

And while she’s optimistic that the county will soon tackle the renovations — “They tell us that we’re top on the list” — the health department director also knows that such an expensive endeavor is a big bite for the county to take. 

“I do think it’s kind of theoretical still until they put it out to bid,” Carden said. “When they put that bid out, I’ll know it’s serious.”



Plans, in theory

Although a timeline remains elusive, Jackson County has plans to renovate its Community Services Center and Skyland Services Center. The plans call for adding additional square footage to the Community Services Center in an effort to provide more space for the health department, and transferring some offices now housed at that center into the Skyland Services Center.

The tentative, multi-part project was laid out in November for Jackson County commissioners. 

“OK, this is the goal, how do we get there?” said Architect Odell Thompson, going over schematic drawings with the commissioners. “How do we get there from here?”

The tentative plans call for transferring the county’s soil and water, as well as cooperative extension offices into the Skyland center, while opening up additional space in the Community Services Center for the currently-cramped health department, as well as environmental services offices. The most dramatic aspect of the plans involve transforming a cavernous, open-air auditorium into two separate stories.

When detailing the plans to commissioners, Thompson broke the project down into phases. Each phase had an estimated dollar amount attached, with the overall total surpassing $6 million.

Firm dates, however, are not attached. At this point the plans are theoretical.

“What do you think it’d take, start to finish?” Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten asked Thompson. 

“I’d say two years,” the architect replied. 

Wooten later explained that the plans would need to be reintroduced to the newly seated board of commissioners, and that the project would need to be prioritized amongst other county interests.

“I have discussed the project with the newly elected commissioners and they have requested that I prepare a capital plan that addresses all the potential capital needs of the county,” Wooten said. “Fortunately, our list is short so hopefully this can be completed during the first quarter of 2015.”

At this point, no design contract has been awarded for the project. 

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