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Concerns over the condition of the Bartholomew County annex building have led to a delay in approving a $225,437 grant that would fund Bartholomew County’s Women, Infant and Children nutrition program for the upcoming fiscal year.
The grant agreement between the Indiana Department of Health and the Bartholomew County Health Department includes a clause that the county must move the WIC clinic from the annex building by March 30.
“I don’t think there is any possibility of having them out by March 30,” said Carla Wolff, assistant director of the county health department.
County Attorney Grant Tucker recommended that county commissioners not approve the grant as long as it contains that stipulation. Commissioners this week asked the health department to begin negotiations with the state agency to remove the condition.
The grant, which covers the staff, supplies and costs for vouchers to program recipients over the next year, was scheduled to begin Oct. 1. Wolff said the state would likely continue to fund the program while the county and the state negotiate. Should the two agencies not reach an agreement, the state likely would begin looking for another local provider for the program.
Although WIC is a federally funded program, it passes through the state Department of Health.
Wolff said the WIC program saves money by operating within the health department because the county does not charge rent. As a result, the local WIC program provides some services for free, such as the disposal of needles, postage and county-provided Internet.
“The commissioners, in general, would like the WIC program to stay with our health department,” said Commissioners President Carl Lienhoop. “I think there is a benefit to the community to having those programs
The WIC program provides vouchers for supplemental nutritious foods; nutrition education and counseling; screening; and referrals to other health, welfare and social services. According to the annual reports from the Bartholomew County WIC program, there were 2,015 clients last year, and 1,752 food vouchers were provided.
The 85-year-old annex building, originally part of the East Columbus School at 1971 State St., is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and suffers from structural problems. The annex houses the Purdue Extension office, the Bartholomew County Health Department’s nursing program and the WIC
Commissioners and County Council are at odds over what to do with the annex building.
Commissioners are ready to move ahead making plans for a new building. County Council members, however, want to explore the options before agreeing to a new project, estimated to cost up to $5 million.
During August budget hearings, County Council stripped out more than $490,000 from commissioners-controlled funds that the commissioners hoped to put toward a new building.
Commissioners, meanwhile, voted 2-0 this week to approve a $14,500 contract with DLZ Indiana, an Indianapolis engineering and architectural firm, to complete a study of the condition of the annex building.
Charlie Day, marketing and sales coordinator with DLZ Indiana, said the study will include a comprehensive review of the structure and the site to determine the life cycle of the building and the rehabilitation costs for the structure compared to a new building. The study is to be completed within 90 days.
Lienhoop said that the study also will include a public meeting, which he would like to be held in the annex building. He joked that the commissioners would supply participants with iced tea and fruit punch.
“And then we will show them where the bathrooms are, and they can see how it works,” Lienhoop said.
The restrooms are one of the many failing or nonfunctional components of the building.
The study of the existing annex was proposed during budget hearings by County Council member Ryan Lauer, and $30,000 was set aside next year for a study. Lauer said last week that he wanted the study to explore the cost to renovate the old building and what functions and agencies it makes sense to include in a county annex.
During a public meeting this week, Columbus resident Mike Lovelace railed against the delays in rebuilding the annex. He presented commissioners with a personal check for $100, which he called the first donation toward a building fund for the annex. He suggested that people and foundations that donated to The Commons could give millions toward a new annex.
“These people that are working out there and people who visit the place are being held hostage,” Lovelace said. “We don’t do that with the jail. We keep that in tip-top shape. At the courthouse, we are always spending money on it.”
Commissioners agreed to accept the donation but as of yet have not started a donation fund to pay for the annex
About the office
BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY WIC OFFICE: 1971 State St., Columbus, on the second floor of the county government annex building.
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