Growing Pains

Social Services May Get Much-Needed Space

Posted: March 19, 2013

Rockingham County received an unsolicited proposal to renovate the former Social Security Administration space on East Elizabeth Street in Harrisonburg for use as the offices of the Department of Social Services. (Photo by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)
HARRISONBURG — Longstanding cramping at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham County Social Services Department could soon be alleviated.
 
The Rockingham County Board of Supervisors accepted an unsolicited proposal last week by Nielsen Builders to renovate and expand the former local office of the Social Security Administration for use by Social Services.
 
The board’s action begins a process in which other contractors could submit competing proposals for consideration.
 
It does not commit the county or Social Services to follow through with awarding a bid, but officials with the city, county and Social Services say they’re optimistic the much-needed project will finally move forward.
 
“It’s something we really need to be doing,” Social Services Director Don Driver said. “It’s something we need to do. …  We’re very optimistic and hopeful that it’s something we see some results to.”
 
Social Services is run as a joint operation by the city and county to provide federal, state and local public assistance and benefits programs.
 
The department now has 110 employees spread out into three buildings, including its main office at 110 Mason St., Driver said.
 
The department shares the main office with the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Health Department.
 
In 2008, city and county officials discussed putting the health and social services departments together under one roof with the Community Services Board, but it was deemed not feasible due to funding.
 
Driver said that could still be a possibility in the future, but “right now, we’re trying to deal with the more immediate need.”
 
Nielsen has proposed renovating and expanding the old Social Security office at 227 E. Elizabeth St., which has sat vacant since SSA moved into the nearby Colonnade mixed-use complex near the corner of Gay and Mason streets earlier this year.
 
The proposed project would provide Social Services with an additional 15,000 square feet.
 
It would bring child protective and foster care services under one roof and free up space elsewhere, Driver said.
 
County Administrator Joe Paxton said the social services district, which consists of the city and county, has set aside money for more office space.
 
The total amount is believed to be about $2.5 million, which could be enough to cover the cost of improvements, Paxton said.
 
He said he could not discuss specifics about what exactly Nielsen proposed or cost estimates from the Harrisonburg-based contracting firm.
 
Supervisors accepted Nielsen’s bid under the Public-Private Education and Facilities Infrastructure Act and Public-Private Transportation Act.
 
As part of the program, the county will accept proposals from other potential contractors until 2 p.m. May 1.
 
After the deadline passes, officials will consider whether to move to the next stage in the process, which involves more detailed proposals by selected contractors, Deputy County Administrator Stephen King said.
 
“This at this stage is conceptual,” he said.
 
Harrisonburg City Council does not need to take similar action because Rockingham County is acting as the fiscal agent, City Manager Kurt Hodgen said.
 
The city-county liaison committee has discussed the matter, Hodgen said.
 
Hodgen said he and Paxton, who serve as the Social Services administrative board, would keep their respective governing bodies abreast of developments.
 
“Both the city and the county have been accumulating funding over the years …  knowing eventually Social Services would need additional space,” Hodgen said. “This isn’t anything that is a surprise to us.”
 
Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or jhunt@dnronline.com



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