Board’s discussion hints at collapse of county’s original plans for diversion center

Monday’s discussion about the county’s proposed diversion center might’ve been a bit puzzling to some observers who’ve followed the evolution of this project since it was first broached in 2016.

The development of new county facility began with a mutual vision of Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson and former county commissioner Bob Byrd, who had both longed for a program to provide drug addicts and the mentally ill with an alternative to the county jail.

Initially, the project’s founders zeroed in on a decommissioned medical office that the county had received from the Kernodle Clinic of Burlington on the other side of Graham-Hopedale Road from its human services center. It soon became clear that this donated building required far more upgrades and repairs than the county was willing to invest – which for a time, put the kibosh on the county’s plans for a diversion center.

The project nevertheless got another shot in the arm in 2018, when area resident Ron Petree pledged to donate $3 million for the county to build a new home for Friendship Adult Day Services, which had occupied the county’s so-called “elderly services” building along Burlington’s Martin Street. Petree also agreed to let the county use any leftover funds to renovate the elderly services building to serve as the proposed diversion center.

Although the board of commissioners hasn’t formally considered any subsequent changes to this proposal, the course of Monday’s discussion made it abundantly clear that the county has abandoned its plans to house the diversion center in the former elderly services building.

The big tipoff came when Steve Carter, the vice chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, informed the rest of the board that someone had approached him with an offer to donate another, entirely different building for the diversion center. Carter declined to go into any specifics during Monday’s discussion although he did tell his colleagues that the would-be benefactor has offered to take the commissioners on a tour of this unidentified edifice.

Neither Carter nor any of the other commissioners said anything at the time about the implicit suggestion that the former elderly services building is no longer in play as a potential site for the diversion center. Since then, however, The Alamance News has received confirmation of this wrinkle in the project from assistant county manager Sherry Hook.

Hook told the newspaper that the building on Martin Street has proven to be a poor fit for RHA Health Services, the diversion center’s presumed anchor, which already operates a mental health crisis center in Burlington on the county’s behalf.

“Back when we started looking at that building,” she explained in an interview Wednesday, “we realized it was not large enough to house all of the programs for RHA.”

The commissioners, for their part, didn’t say anything in response to Carter’s proposal. Nor did they formally accept the invitation to tour the unspecified edifice that the vice chairman’s contact has reportedly offered to donate.

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