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Committee explores competing layouts for proposed mental health diversion center

After more than six years, the dream of a mental health “diversion” center in Alamance County may actually be on the verge of becoming a brick-and-mortar reality.

Last week, some rough plans for this new county facility were formally unveiled to a steering committee that the county’s board of commissioners has formed to whip up an actionable proposal for this long-mulled endeavor. This ad hoc committee, which includes two of the five county commissioners along with other county officials and some external mental health experts, has been ordered to present a recommendation to the full board of commissioners no later than its next regularly-scheduled meeting on March 21.

The facility which the committee has been assigned to flesh out is intended to serve as a clearing house for substance abusers and mentally ill individuals who are picked up by local law enforcement for relatively minor offenses. A contractor in the county’s employ currently operates a rudimentary version of this center out of a rented building along Burlington’s Anne Elizabeth Drive. The county’s top brass have nevertheless been eager to establish something more permanent – with 24-hour intake in lieu of the existing 15 1/2-hour schedule and inpatient treatment for up to 16 people.

The plans for this project received a significant boost last fall when county officials learned that that they’d be able to tap into the $32.9 million they’ve gotten in federal pandemic relief to bankroll capital projects like the proposed diversion center. It wasn’t long before a local developer approached the county’s administrators with a proposal to construct a diversion center for roughly a third of this federal largesse.

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A majority of the commissioners initially balked at this pitch when Chad Porterfield of Chadco Construction personally presented it in December. The county’s leaders have nevertheless continued to flirt with Sharpe’s offer – which became the focus of the committee’s discussions when its members convened their first official meeting on Friday.

During Friday’s gathering, the committee received an overview of the proposed project from Don Reuss of Vaya Health, an Asheville-based consortium that administers publicly-funded mental health services in Alamance County. Reuss keyed in specifically on Sharpe’s proposed site, which consists of several parcels at the juncture of Kirkpatrick and Long Pine roads – not far from the grounds of Alamance Regional Medical Center.

Although the county’s administrators have also considered housing the center in an existing county facility along Burlington’s Martin Street, Reuss deemed Porterfield’s proffered location to be eminently preferable – thanks, in part, to relatively short trek to the emergency room at ARMC.

“When people are in crisis, they’ll go where they’re used to going,” Reuss went on to explain his rationale to the committee. “So, we need to be in proximity to the emergency department.”

Reuss proceeded to present the steering committee with three options for a diversion center on Porterfield’s prospective site.

One option, which most resembles Porterfield’s original offer to the commissioners, calls for three one-story buildings with a combined floor area of 20,000 square feet. Reuss put a price tag of about $10 million on this particular option based on calculations that the county’s administrators had previously run.

[Story continues below layouts of three options.]

The representative from Vaya conceded that he had no firm cost estimates for the other two alternatives. One of these competing proposals calls for one two-story building with 24,000 square feet of floor space and a second, one-story structure with a floor area of 4,000 square feet. The other option envisions a single building with 30,000 square feet of floor space within its two-story frame.

Reuss told the steering committee that, under each of these three options, the county would ultimately own the building that Chadco constructs and Vaya would help to ensure that the facility operates as intended.

The consortium’s representative added that the county would need to chip in no more than the $1.4 million it already spends on publicly-subsidized mental health services in order to fund the proposed facility’s operating costs. This sum includes some $200,000 from a federal grant that the county will ultimately need to supplant with its own revenue if it intends to maintain the outlay at its existing level.

Reuss said that Vaya will be in a position to foot the rest of the bill for the center’s operations using the revue it already spends on the various services it administers across Alamance County.

“Our objective is to pull [existing] services into the center,” he added. “This will be consolidating the funding that we already have in the community. So, there will be no additional cost to support that.”

In light of Vaya’s anticipated contribution, Reuss insisted the county won’t have to spend anything extra to expand the existing center’s 15 1/2-hour schedule to a 24-hour format. He predicted that the consolidation of staffing and a decreased need for the emergency room would ultimately offset the added expense of the extended operating hours.

Reuss also assured the steering committee that the county will bear no additional expense to include inpatient services at the diversion center. Although he projected that a 16-bed inpatient wing would cost some $2 million to $2.5

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