Athens Children Services Is Looking At Facility Options

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Athens County Children Services is looking at options for improving its facilities at Stonybrook Drive in Athens.

"We have a draft of a plan to address our crumbling infrastructure, our facilities and buildings," Executive Director Cathy Hill said. "This has been something the agency and board have been looking at for a long time, since about 2000 or so, and the board (believes) it is time for us to move ahead and act on that."

Children Services has offices, a visitation center and areas to serve children and families at the Stonybrook Drive location. There are four main buildings at the site that were originally constructed about 40 years ago as group homes to replace the Athens County Children's Home that was demolished to make way for the Route 33-50 bypass. The  buildings have been retrofitted over the years to serve as offices.

Hill said office space is cramped, there are moisture issues and heating and ventilation issues.

Hill said BDT Architects (formerly Panich & Noel) surveyed the existing buildings, interviewed staff and assessed current and future facility needs to put together a draft for a long-range facilities study.

Hill declined to discuss specifies of the draft study, since it has not yet been reviewed by the agency's buildings and grounds committee. However, she said it contains three options: one for improving the existing buildings, a second calling for new construction and a third calling for more extensive new construction.

Preliminary estimates have the cost ranging from more than $2 million to nearly $9 million, depending on which option is selected, Hill said.

"We hope to handle it with our current funding," Hill said, although the ability to do that could be impacted by what increased costs the agency faces in providing services to children and families. It may be necessary to borrow funds for the building improvement program.

The agency has set aside $1.6 million in a capital improvements fund, and plans to add another $400,000 next year.

During a meeting Tuesday, Athens County Budget Commission member Jill Thompson asked agency officials why more money is not being set aside next year.

"I do think we need to put more aside," said Otis Crockron Jr., the agency’s financial officer, but he noted that putting together a building program will take time, so there is not an immediate need for cash. He also said the agency needs to be sure it maintains an adequate carryover of operating funds.

Hill said the buildings and grounds committee will review the draft study and make recommendations to the agency's full board on how to proceed, probably by this fall or the end of the year. If the board decides on an option, then it would be 2015 before requests for proposals could be sought from architects, and then the project would need to be put out to bid.

She said all three options call for using the Stonybrook Drive property, even if there is new construction.