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Goodhue County still discussing HHS building plans

RED WING — Goodhue County officials will convene Tuesday in Kenyon to consider one of the final steps in a significant operational change for the third straight month.

Some consider identifying where the combined departments of Public Health and Social Services — called Health and Human Services as of August 2010 — will be housed to be the final step of an arduous process that was first considered six years ago and has officially been in the works since 2008.

However, Public Health Director Karen Main says it's just the beginning.

"Actually, now is the hard part," she said. "What can we meaningfully do together? How can we cope with budget cuts by working together? That's tricky."

Goodhue County officials have slowly, diligently narrowed their options for the facility where the combined departments will call home. There appears to be two options favored by the five-person county board: signing a long-term lease with Fairview Medical Center for the the old hospital facility at about $264,000 a year, or tearing down the current public health facility and rebuilding it for $9.2 million.


Other options presented by county staff on April 21 include buying the old hospital for $1 and renovating it for about $7.8 million — the option preferred by commissioner Ron Allen — or renovating the department's three current facilities for about $5 million.

It's also possible that the plans may need to be partially combined if major construction is ultimately approved, creating the need for temporary space.

"There's been different pros and cons brought up with each plan," commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said. "I think each commissioner is still at the point where they want staff to answer more questions about each option."

County officials feel now is a good time to secure a low-interest bond for such an expensive venture — whatever choice is made — but they have also planned a $9.2 million bond for road improvements in 2011, which includes money for the Cannon Falls interchange. In addition, the county is paying about $2 million a year in bond payments through 2013 for the construction of the new county jail, among other buildings, in 2002.

Those financial factors have figured prominently in the discussion, according to Rechtzigel, as the county doesn't want to stretch itself too thin.

While no decision is imminent for approving a new facility, officials are eager to formalize the Health and Human Services department by merging the two departments under one roof. A plan must be in place by the end of the year, as the nonoperational elevator in the current Public Health building has been deemed a safety hazard and must be removed by Jan. 1, 2012 under state law.

"Public health does so much on the preventative side and social services does so much on the response side," said Rechtzigel, who first proposed the integrated system in 2005. "We could have the preventative side working with the response side, so we're looking at a very modern model."

"(The directors have us) right to about the 5- or 10-yard line in terms of us scoring a touchdown here. We've very close."

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