By Steve Dunn
Two representatives of the Lee County Health Department and Lee County Conservation Board asked the Keokuk City Council Thursday for $10,000 to $15,000 to help build a new joint facility costing an estimated $3.9 million to $4.5 million.
The facility would be located on land owned by the conservation board at Heron Bend along Highway 61.
The health department rents the ground floor and basement of the old Fort Madison Hospital for office space. It has spent $402,467 on rent and repairs the past 20 years at its present location. which has inadequate storage space, an inefficient heating and cooling systems, and limited access to services, the health department says. If the health department does not move, it will spend about $700,792 in its current building, it adds.
Health department Administrator Julie Schilling said the department’s board looked at 22 other possible locations. The asking price for six locations was too high and four required extensive renovation, according to Schilling. Some were way too big while others were too small, she said. Some were not handicapped accessible.
In the past 15 years, the health department has increased its programs from six to 20. The staff has grown from 15 to 37 during that same period, Schilling said.
Schilling pointed out that four of the health department’s wellness programs are relatively new and it is working on new wellness programs for businesses. The department also got a grant to put in a trail at Heron Bend, she said.
When the conservation board got a grant to obtain property in 1994, “our intent was to have a nature center there,” conservation Director Tom Buckley told the council.
“This (facility) would eliminate some duplicated services,” Buckley said. “We would work with the public and private schools and home-base students. This facility could provide a spot for some educational programs in case of inclement weather.”
A nature center could be a tourism destination, according to Buckley.
Besides lacking classroom space for indoor programs and display space for exhibits, the current conservation board set up has limited programming options, inadequate storage for program materials, and inadequate space for animal displays and care, the conservation board says.
The proposed project’s benefits include a central location in the county, one building for both departments on county-owned property, handicapped accessibility, shared use of integrated spaces, improved utility and energy efficiency, sufficient space for programming, an educational exhibit and animal display area, and a large community meeting room for programs and events, the two groups say. In addition, the county’s long-term costs would be reduced, the two departments say.
The Lee County Board of Supervisors has said it will contribute $50,000 if the health and conservation departments raise $500,000 by year’s end. Each of the department’s foundations has committed $75,000 toward the new facility.
Buckley said both groups are in the initial stages of fundraising. The Fort Madison City Council has not pledged any money at this point, he added.
City council member Sandy Pollitt described the health department’s present quarters as “cramped and out of date.” “But money is always an issue,” she said.
The council does not begin work on the 2013-14 budget until January.
Donations may be sent to Friends of Lee County Health Department Foundation, 2218 Avenue H, Fort Madison, IA 52627 or Three Rivers Conservation Foundation, P.O. Box 218, Montrose, IA 52639. All monetary gifts are tax deductible.