By John Holler, Correspondent
For the last several decades, the Wright County Courthouse has become antiquated and overcrowded due to the sustained growth of the county. In response to that, the county has created space by building a jail off-site and moving the sheriff’s department out and are in the process of moving to courts out due to overcrowding.
With the space that will be freed up with the move, one of the first departments to move off-site is looking for a new home of its own – the health and human services department.
At the March 6 meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, Health & Human Services Director Jami Goodrum Schwartz came before the board asking that her department not be forgotten when discussion of a space study being commissioned is discussed later this month.
“I’m not here to persuade you one way or the other regarding retrofitting this building or building a new building, but I did want to let you know a couple of things that keep weighing on my mind,” Goodrum Schwartz said. “Onefourth of our county staff are located at the Human Services Center, but we only account for about 13 percent of the usable staff space in the county, so density is an issue. We’ve become pretty overpopulated over the last 20 years.”
The human services department moved into the former Pamida Building at the intersection of Hwys. 55 and 25 in 1999 and, at the time, it was expected to be a five-to-eight-year housing option. It has been almost 20 years and the problems that the employees have there have been problems for years. There is also no emergency space in the event of a tornado, proper security for employees who often deal with angry residents, adequate parking and there are just three windows in the entire building.
Commissioner Mike Potter said that the board appreciates the sacrifices human services has made while other departments have had their space crises addressed and said it has been an incremental problem that is being taken care of in steps – adding that crowding has been a problem for years and the county is putting out one fire at a time.
“We’ve got to quit chasing our tail like (the county board) did with the courts – do this methodically how we’re moving forward this to accommodate not only today, but in the future,” Potter said. “When (we built) the highway building we got a little pushback on that at first. But, four departments got longterm space needs covered with that building with very minimal if any impact to taxpayers. These are things we need to keep doing. When you look at the whole picture, these are the smart steps for us to take to ensure that we stay in the lower tier of per-capita spending.”
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