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Health services building proposed

A $28.5 million health services complex that rivals The Commons in size and cost could be under construction by early spring after the former post office building in downtown Medford is demolished.

Rather than renovate the old building as originally proposed, Jackson County officials have developed plans for a new 86,000-square-foot, two-story office building. It would be designed to handle a caseload that is expected to rise from the current 23,000 clients to 45,000 by the time it opens in 2014.

"It centralizes services in a fantastic way for people in need," said Dee Anne Everson, executive director of United Way, who participated on a committee that studied options for the site.

The county purchased the old post office on Eighth Street between Holly and Ivy streets in 2011 for $1.9 million, intending to remodel it and add a parking garage.

It turned out, however, that the cost to remodel and retrofit the building was about $1 million more than demolishing and starting from scratch.

By comparison, The Commons, which features the Lithia Motors headquarters, cost $32 million in public and private dollars.

Everson said mental health, alcohol and drug programs, immunizations, vital records, food licenses and disability services would all be available in the new health building.

"Right now they're in about seven different places," Everson said.

She said the health center won't provide every service because of budget constraints, but it would be a major improvement over the current setup.

The new health services building will cost an estimated $18 million. Immediately to the south of the health center will be a new six-story parking garage with 401 spaces, built at a cost $8.5 million. Adding the purchase price of the property brings the total cost to $28.5 million.

County Administrator Danny Jordan said the design of the building is still being worked out by Ogden Roemer Wilkerson Architecture, AIA, which also designed the Lithia building.

"It will not be a Taj Mahal," Jordan said. "It will be a nice facility."

The main entrance to the new building will be in a courtyard area created between the parking garage and the health services center.

County officials will not seek any levy or additional tax dollars from voters to pay for the building.

The county set aside $12 million toward the project from its general fund reserves. The remainder of the revenues will come from reserves the county has built up by setting aside a portion of state payments made for services provided by the county's Health and Human Services Department.

The county expects to make a profit of $1 million to $1.2 million annually in lease payments that will be funded by the state in return for services provided by the county. That means the county would be able to pay back the $12 million in general fund expenditures in about a dozen years, Jordan said, plus produce a continuing stream of profits after that.

"We're paying for all this ourselves," Jordan said.

The county has hired JE Dunn of Portland to build both the health center and the garage.

In order to avoid borrowing, the new health services building will be built only to handle the immediate client load and is expected to be at capacity as soon as it opens in 2014. However, the building is designed for future expansion.

Jackson County Commissioner Don Skundrick said a number of situations have come together to make the building appealing for the county.

More patients will qualify for health care under the federal Affordable Care Act, he said, with estimates that the number of eligible residents will almost double by 2014. Existing health services are spread out and crammed into tight quarters. And most of the health department's clients live in the west side of Medford, Skundrick said.

"This is a classic example of opportunity meeting need," he said.

The county is not asking taxpayers for any more money, and the building itself is far from fancy.

"It's utilitarian, that's what it is," Skundrick said.

Local officials praised the county's move.

"I am really very proud of the county for undertaking such an inclusive process to create a venue that will help folks in our community get access to the type of care they need," said Medford businessman Bill Thorndike, who also served on the committee developing the plans for the project.

"As much as you would like to have a prettier building, you want a building that works well and is safe and will stay standing if that earthquake ever hits," he said.

Mayor Gary Wheeler said the new county building will bring more jobs to the downtown, along with the Lithia headquarters and plans for a corporate office complex for Pacific Retirement Services, Rogue Disposal and Recycling and Procare Software.

Wheeler said the consolidation of health services and the close availability of bus service will be a major boost for the county.

"The benefits are going to be significant," he said. "For the county, it makes for better delivery of services.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.

Health services building proposed