Past its usefulness?

Commission starts considering future of downtown health department building

By Deb Hadachek Telescope editor

Republic County joins a list of other area counties that have abandoned, renovated or built new health department facilities, commissioners were told June 26.

Doug McKinney and Emily Benedict of the North Central Regional Planning Commission said grants are available to help counties improve health facilities.

The Republic County Health Department was abruptly moved to the Rolling Hills Electric building on US81 Highway in June after the start of renovations revealed worse problems than initially thought in its downtown location.

“We put money into the building and thought we fixed the roof,” said Commissioner Ed Splichal. “We were ready to work on the inside of building, maybe take it in stages over several years to replace tile, paint, carpet.

“Then after the last big rain the building leaked again but it wasn’t in the place it was leaking before,” he said, saying water affected equipment in the office area. He said estimates for labor to make repairs and renovations to the building topped $100,000.

“That’s why we all of a sudden said this is throwing good money after bad,” he said. “We have not made any kind of decision. We’re just soul searching right now for lack of a better word. It just looks like a place we could spend tons of money and still have an old building that leaks.

“It’s just a cumbersome building that has outlived its usefulness as it exists.”

s it exists.” Commissioners said they have not pursued a purchase price on the Rolling Hills building. The county leased the south half of the building for $600 a month for a year. Rolling Hills linemen still use the other areas of the building and the pole storage to the east.

McKinney said Lincoln County abandoned an old health department building and built a new building with a small footprint in downtown Lincoln.

“Most of (the other county health departments) we’ve worked with have been in courthouses, like (Republic County) was at one time. “They just needed more space, more room for services, more privacy, more accessibility, technology, communication,” he said.

McKinney said NCRP has assisted at least six counties with grant funds for new health facilities or renovation. Money might be available to help demolish the existing building, he said.

“I have a pit in my stomach about tearing down buildings,” commented highway administrator Dusty Zenger who sat in on the conversation. “You might get a nice, new metal building, but you lose the sentimental value,”

McKinney suggested the county hire a structural engineer to evaluate the health department building to help determine whether it can be saved.

“You have an opportunity to do something better for future whichever way you go,” said Republic County Economic Development director Luke Mahin as the group brainstormed possible additions to health department services. “You have a chance for adaptation to make it better than it was before.”

Medical services

The downtown building has been the site for some sort of medical services since at least 1960 when medical doctors Beiderwell and Hunsley and dentist Dr. William Smith renovated it for a medical/dental building. Previously the building, called “the Splichal building” in Telescopes of that era, housed the L.J. Messer auto parts business and Clark’s Cleaners.

Drs. Ward and Scott joined the medical practice shortly after it opened in that location. In the 1990s the Belleville Medical Clinic moved to the NCK Medical Arts Center on the Republic County Hospital campus.

The Republic County Health Department was located in the courthouse, and then for several years operated out of a wing at Republic County Hospital before it moved downtown.