Tahlequah Daily Press

July 13, 2013

County to refurbish, repurpose CCHD facility

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Several of the county’s elected officials will have new space to use in the coming months with the renovation of the facility that once housed Cherokee County Health Department programs.

The building – once known as the health department’s west facility – suffered from a sewer backup in October 2011.

Maria Alexander, the health department’s administrative director, said all services from the damaged facility were moved to the east building after the sewer backup, causing some programs to be reduced.

The health department had to pay nearly $100,000 for the initial cleanup of the west building, Alexander said. Those costs covered storage of the department’s equipment and the initial response for cleanup.

“We had to pay that,” said Alexander. “To redo everything just back to the previous standard was going to be in excess of another $100,000.”

Health department officials took the matter to voters last April when they asked for a millage increase that would fund the construction or purchase of a new facility for the entire health department, but voters ultimately turned down that proposal.

County commissioners have now taken back control of the building, which the county has owned for years.

District 3 Commissioner Mike Ballard hasn’t received an estimate on how much the renovation will cost, but he expects the price tag will not near the $50,000 mark.

At least three elected officials are set to have some space in the facility when renovation is complete: Cherokee County Sheriff Norman Fisher, Court Clerk Shelly Kissinger, and District Attorney Brian Kuester.

All three plan to use space at the building for storage.

“We are spending $100 per month for two off-site storage buildings, so we can take the stuff from those buildings and store it in the space we have down at the building,” said Fisher.

Kissinger’s office also rents off-site storage, and she expects the additional space will cut costs.

“We are very appreciative of the commissioners for allowing us to use that,” said Kissinger. “It’ll provide a big cost savings.”

Neither Fisher nor Kissinger plan to move personnel from the courthouse to the new facility.

Kuester, however, plans to use some of the space for storage, but also expects to take advantage of new office space.

“Our intent, at this point, is for the district attorney investigators, primarily drug task force investigators, to move down there,” said Kuester. “It will certainly free up some space at the courthouse. The drug task force director, Mike Moore, currently has an office at the courthouse, but his office will move to that location.”

Meanwhile, health department officials have continued their search for a new building, Alexander said this week.

“We are still looking for a building that can accommodate all our staff and services,” said Alexander. “Re-occupying the west building was not an option for us. Bottom line, we are still looking at partnership options with other entities. We are still performing all our services to our clients, just in the cramped environment.”

jnewton@tahlequahdailypress.com