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When it came time to move the Piatt County Community Action office from the old annex building near downtown Monticello to the former Kirby Hospital property on State Street, director Wendy Dotson was hesitant.
“I was probably the only one at the annex saying, ‘I don’t want to move, I don’t want to move,’ but now that we’ve done it I’m glad we did,” said Dotson of her new office in what is now called the Piatt County Office Building.
The county purchased the 17,000 square foot building from Kirby Medical Center for $750,000 about a year ago. It gave them about 3,000 more square feet in which to house 21 county-related offices, and also a 1976 structure that is 50-60 years younger than the 301 S. Charter St. annex.
By definition Community Action Partnership of Central Illinois often serves those a little down on their luck, and Dotson finds the new PCOB’s brighter surroundings have helped the mood of her clients.
“Most of them are coming in with their head a little low, and their pride gone, and they walk into this place and there’s a nice waiting room, and it’s bright, and I think it helps change the attitude of the clients,” she said.
It has also made Piatt County offices such as animal control and transportation as well as those of the Piatt County Genealogical and Historical Society more accessible to the public, according to county engineer Eric Seibring.
“The other building was getting pretty old,” said Seibring of the annex, which the county assessors office estimates was built in the early 1900’s.
“We are a lot more ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliant here. We could be ADA compliant at the annex, but if someone needed to see me I would have to visit with them in another office because of the way it was laid out,” added the county official.
The move also helped the adjoining Piatt County Nursing Home, which was able to take a cramped office that had 5 employees in a 12-by-12 foot space and move them into the PCOB. The move not only freed up office space in the nursing home, but gives the facility access to a more private conference room.
“It’s been wonderful,” said Karla Bradley, administrator of the nursing home and attached Maple Point Assisted Living Center.
“Before we had a lot of staff in an open room, so it wasn’t conducive to privacy,” added Bradley. “We would have to take people to another area of the building that was free.”
The move also allowed the nursing home closer access to Faith in Action and Services for Seniors, both of which moved to the new office building. The two agencies work closely with the elderly, making proximity to the long-term care facilities a plus.
“It’s been so nice having the outreach programs here with us,” added Bradley.
The county purchased $1.5 million in bonds to cover the purchase price, upgrades and the possibility of tearing down the annex. But county board member Richard Wilkin said that, since some bonds related to country courthouse renovations expired, the borrowing was done without raising property owners’ taxes.
“It’s worked pretty well, and has the potential to do well,” said Wilkin. “It’s nice space.”
It also has the potential to be an economic development tool, as the county has a firm interested in using some current storage space in the PCOB to house data servers. An east coast company may take advantage of the fiber optic internet connection coming to Monticello next year to help sell cloud-based storage. Wilkin estimates it could raise $100,000 a year in revenue for the county, which could be used to pay off bonds early and/or bolster the county’s general fund.
The parade of agencies began with the Animal Control Department in early March, and ended when the transportation department set up shop at the new location by the end of April.
“What worked out nice is that they didn’t all move at once,” said Scott Stephenson, the county maintenance supervisor. “It was quite the task of changing hospital rooms to office spaces, so it was good to have one group move in, then a week later another.”
The sheer volume and weight of some of the county records also made the move a challenge.
“We (transportation department) have files that date back to the 1800’s,. so moving 100-plus-year-old files is not easy,” said Seibring. He did say the move enabled the department to organize and catalogue them for easier access down the road.
There are still at least a pair of loose ends after the move. The annex featured less office space, but plenty of open space to store vehicles. The county is pursuing an out-building to store its trucks. A first attempt last spring failed when the Monticello City Council felt the building should better match the architecture of the neighborhood. Seibring said he is working on an amended proposal to submit to zoning officials sometime next year.
The empty annex itself is also something the county would like to get off its books, but attempts to auction it off did not meet minimum bids.
Other agencies who have taken up residence in the new PCOB include Habitat for Humanity, the Piatt County Coroner’s office, Piatt County Museum, Veterans Assistance office, the Emergency Management Agency, and the Regional Planning Commission’s workforce development office.
Grants have been obtained for some of the renovations, including more automatic heating/cooling adjustments and more energy-efficient lighting.
It has led to an atmosphere that has helped not employees but those visiting county offices, said Dotson.
“It changes the dynamics,” she said. “It might sound kind of corny, but I think it helps.”