An ad hoc steering committee has endorsed a 28,000-square-foot facility with an anticipated cost of $16.1 million to house a 24-hour “diversion” center that the county has long contemplated to serve substance abusers and mentally-ill individuals who are arrested for relatively minor criminal offenses.
This 11-member committee, which the county’s board of commissioners had tasked with assessing this project, unanimously signed off on this recommendation during its second official meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
During the course of this gathering, the committee endorsed a plan for the diversion center that consists of two buildings with a combined floor area of 28,000. The larger of these two structures would contain two stories and 24,000 of space while the smaller one, which would be connected to the larger through an enclosed walkway, would have 4,000 square feet in a single story.
The group gave this proposal its blessing with the understanding that it would cost $11.8 million to construct the two-building campus and another $4.3 million to upfit and equip this facility – for a total cost of $16.1 million to develop the center.
The steering committee’s members didn’t explicitly specify the diversion center’s site in their recommendation to the commissioners. They nevertheless approved the project’s proposed parameters with the assumption that the center would be set up on property that Chad Porterfield of Chadco Builders has begun to develop at the juncture of Kirkpatrick and Long Pine roads near the main campus of Alamance Regional Medical Center.
The group omitted the facility’s proposed location from its formal recommendation in order to make sure the project can be bankrolled, at least in part, from the county’s cache of federal pandemic relief funds. According to the county’s administrators, the county still has roughly $25.8 million left from the $32.9 million allocation that it received under the American Rescue Plan which Congress adopted last March.
Andrea Rollins, the county’s budget and management director, stressed that in order for this project to be eligible for these funds, the committee should recommend its desired criteria for a facility rather than fixate on a particular site. Rollins added that the county’s interim attorney has recommended this route so that the county won’t unwittingly forfeit these funds by allocating them for too specific a project.
“The wording of the steering committee[‘s recommendation] is about what is needed,” she said during Tuesday’s proceedings. “It is all about describing what this will achieve for Alamance County.”
Donald Reuss with Vaya Health, an Asheville-based consortium that administers the county’s publicly-subsidized mental health services, told the committee that the proposed site at the intersection of Kirkpatrick and Long Pine roads fulfills every requirement that the county’s leaders have previously enunciated for the diversion center.
“It meets all the parameters that we have been looking for as a community as far as the location and the size of the facility,” he added. “We all agree it is the right site.”
Bryan Hagood, Alamance County’s manager, asserted that Porterfield’s site is also preferable to four other prospective locations that the county’s administrators had explored near the hospital, which is owned and operated by Greensboro-based Cone Health.
“It is contiguous to Cone’s property and is in a state of development,” he stressed. “We’ve looked at four other properties in the vicinity of the hospital. I understand that none of them are contiguous to Cone, and none of them are in a state of development where they would be ready as quickly as the Chadco site.”
John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s Commissioners, added that none of the other four sites could be operational in less than three to five years, while a center on Porterfield’s site could be up and running in as little as 12 to 18 months.
“If we want to move now,” he added, “we have one good site.”
The committee’s members ultimately selected its recommendation to the commissioners from three options that Vaya Health had proposed for a diversion center on Porterfield’s property.
[Story continues below graphics of the three optional layouts.]
The first option which Reuss laid out on Tuesday called for three one-story buildings with a cumulative size of 20,000 square feet and a base price of $10 million to construct. His second proposal envisioned two buildings with a combined size of 28,000 square feet and a cost of $11.8 million. Meanwhile, the third possibility called for a single, 30,000-square-foot structure with a projected construction cost of $11.45 million.
Reuss said that the two buildings in Option B could be licensed for different uses and even equipped with separate entrances for urgent care drop off and for families with children. In response to a question from Paisley, Porterfield conceded that a separate entrance for families could also be built into the single structure in Option C.
Reuss emphasized that his cost estimates which he shared with the committee would only cover the construction of a basic structure to house the diversion center.
“These are shell buildings,” he said, “which will allow us to come back to this group and retrofit the inside.”
Reuss said that the cost of the necessary retrofits would tack on another $3.2 million for Option A, an additional $4.3 million for Option B, and $4.6 million to the bill for Option C.
Reuss said that when taking the cost of the retrofits into consideration, the price tags for options B and C would be roughly equivalent. He added that his own personal preference would be for Option B because it would allow children’s services to be centralized in a separate structure.
“I just like families and children being able to walk in and having their own space,” he added. “It’s more inviting.”
Reuss said that both Options B and C would offer the square footage necessary to meet the county’s criteria for a 24-hour diversion center. Meanwhile, Porterfield said that the materials he’d use for either Option B or C would be categorically hardier and longer-lasting than Option A.
“You’re getting a tank with B and C that is very durable,” he asserted.
John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, ultimately urged the committee to recommend a facility along the lines of Option B.
“This Option B gives us the extra square footage and it gives the room for expansion to prepare for the future,” he added, “and I would really encourage us to do that.
“Mr. Porterfield has been way beyond reasonable in accommodating us,” the commissioners’ chairman added. “And if we don’t do something really soon, like by March 21, I’m afraid that we’ll lose that option.”
The committee’s members went on to vote 11-to-0 to recommend Option B to the commissioners at their next regularly-scheduled meeting on March 21. The group stipulated that the wording of their proposal would be subject to the review of the county’s interim attorney to ensure it complies with the requirements for the county’s federal pandemic relief allocation.