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Wednesday, 20 January 2010 16:12

Close-up of a crumbling facility

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Fire code violations, compromised client confidentiality, leaking roofs, freezing pipes, lack of energy efficiency, severely limited space, windows that won’t close...

The problems with the current DSS and health department facilities would take pages to list.

And the issues have not escaped unnoticed by the 12,000 residents — 20 percent of the Haywood County population — receiving services at DSS and nearly 10,000 residents regularly making their way to the health department each year.

Whether it’s the client whose confidential health information is heard by everyone nearby or those who routinely get stuck in ancient elevators, these flaws are no secret.

That’s especially the case now that the worsened economy has lead to increased usage of these county services.

Ira Dove, director of social services, asked commissioners last week if they would want to work in such a building or feel safe having their mother riding its broken-down elevator.

The current DSS building, located on the Old Asheville Highway between downtown and the roundabout, was originally a county hospital built in 1927. The portion that the DSS uses was added on in 1950.

Meanwhile the health department, found a mile further down the Old Asheville Highway across from Junaluska Elementary, is housed in a 54-year-old building.

Both facilities have difficulty keeping up with modern technology due to when they were built.

“Back when there was no computer — only typewriters,” said Dale Burris, the county’s facilities maintenance director.

Most commissioners have visited the facility and have found they could easily justify the need for action to taxpayers.

“I’d like to invite the public to come out and see that facility out there,” said Commissioner Skeeter Curtis.

The challenges of renovating the DSS building are many. An extensive renovation would be necessary. It would involve stripping down the interior to its structural skeleton and reworking the space to create efficiency.

DSS has no need for the old hospital’s wide corridors. And the old patient rooms are too big for one social service worker, yet too small for two.

Architects estimate the staff would have to be moved for an entire year as renovation took place.

The county would also face the added expense of dealing with the structure’s asbestos and lead-based paint issues.

The low ceilings would present major challenges for installing modern heating, venting and air conditioning.

An additional 15,000 to 20,000 square feet of space would be required to comply with state requirements.

The health department has insufficient parking for clients, especially during times of mass vaccinations, like flu shots.

“I think this is a lesson that all of us should learn,” said Curtis. “The better you take care of your facilities and your belongings, the better off you’re going to be in the long run.”

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