Polk to buy Outreach property for $110K

Published 9:46 am Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The future home of Polk’s mental health services offices, located on White Drive in Columbus. (photo by Leah Justice)

Property to house county mental health services

Polk County has agreed to purchase a house in Columbus owned by the Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry for $110,000. Officials plan to house the county’s mental health services in the house.

Commissioners agreed to buy the house by a 3-2 vote during a meeting Monday, May 2, with commissioners Ted Owens and Tom Pack voting against the purchase. The county’s decision was based on its desire to move all services out of the Jervey Palmer building on Carolina Drive in Tryon.

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Built in 1929 as the old St. Luke’s Hospital, the aging Jervey Palmer building has been used for county offices since the 1970s and is costly to maintain. In recent years, the Meeting Place Senior Center and veteran’s services offices have moved out of the Jervey Palmer building into the former Carolina Classical School building off Skyuka Road in Columbus. A new department of social services (DSS) building is currently under construction off Wolverine Trail in Mill Spring. The mental health services department, run by Family Preservation Services, is the last remaining office in the Jervey Palmer building. Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson said it’s his plan to vacate the Jervey Palmer building by the end of October 2011. The new DSS building is scheduled to be complete in August, and the county plans to move DSS services to the new building in September.

Owens and Pack said they don’t want another building to maintain and questioned why mental health services can’t be housed in the new DSS building since original plans were to build seven extra offices. DSS Director Sue Rhodes said there now may be one extra office, but she is not sure that one won’t be filled as well. Whitson said the county can only be reimbursed by state and federal governments for the building costs for space that is used. One of the originally planned extra offices will be used by a juvenile officer, another space is being used to comply with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for recyclables and another space is being used to provide resources for the blind and an office for a community action social worker, Whitson said, among other uses.

“So basically we built extra space and figured out how to fill it up,” said Pack.

Commissioner vice-chair Renée McDermott and commissioner Cindy Walker said putting mental health services and DSS services together is just not feasible. “The [new DSS] building was not designed to house a mental health component,” said McDermott. “It simply wouldn’t work there.”

Rhodes also said there is no space for other services in the new building. Walker said she asked the same thing about putting mental health services in the new DSS building and understands why it wouldn’t work. She explained that there could be situations where mental health and DSS clients do not need to be in the same building.

Family Preservation Services has been providing mental health services for Polk County for approximately five years. Family Preservation took over mental health services after New Vistas closed after approximately six months in Polk County. Family Preservation Services Director Melissa Tambini told commissioners May 2 that Family Preservation Services is renovating the house for commercial use at an estimated cost of $40,000. Renovations to the house include added square footage, Tambini said.

Walker said with the renovations making the building worth more, she “doesn’t see what there is not to like,” in the deal. The property is located on 9/10 of an acre at 94 White Drive in Columbus adjacent to the Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry. Outreach executive director Carol Newton said the property and building were appraised at $120,500. She also said Outreach clients and Family Preservation Service clients are often one and the same. She said Outreach serves many low-income residents who have drug needs that fit right in with Family Preservation services. The county plans to use $80,098 of mental health funding Polk received when the Polk/Rutherford Mental Health district dissolved several years ago through a state reform of mental health services. The other almost $30,000 and closing costs will come from the county’s general fund. Commissioner Owens asked if the county could use the $80,000 for anything, such as employee raises.

Whitson said although the money has been used for mental health services traditionally, it is not restricted and could be used for anything.

The county’s lease agreement with Family Preservation Services was also approved by a 3-2 vote for a 10-year term. Polk County will provide the building, pay utilities and outside maintenance, and Family Preservation will renovate and provide inside maintenance, including cleaning services.