The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 6, 2013

Jobs, Family Services seeking expansion

By CARL E. FEATHER - cfeather@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

JEFFERSON — Commissioners on Tuesday gave their preliminary approval to an expansion project at the Ashtabula County Department of Job and Family Services (ACDJFS) building at the Donahoe Center.

The board met with ACDJFS Executive Director Patrick Arcaro and several of his staff members to discuss a proposed 11,463-square-foot addition to the existing structure, which is shaped like an “H.” The addition would fill in the courtyard areas on both sides of the building, plus extend the building to the east. A second, larger entrance and lobby would be created on the east side of the building, security would be increased and more exits created for the safety of staff.

ACDJFS has two other locations, Main Avenue and Lake Avenue, and the expansion will allow the department to consolidate its Main Avenue operations at the Donahoe Center, resulting in a net loss of about 43 jobs from the city.

The Lake Avenue JobSource services would be relocated to the building on Main Avenue, which the county owns. The Lake Avenue space is rented, and Arcaro told commissioners that “we could have built a brand new building for what we have spent on rent at Lake Avenue.”

The agency’s fiscal officer, Ron Smith, estimates that the agency will save $100,000 annually by consolidating the operations. Cost of the project is estimated at around $2 million, which includes a new roof on the existing building. About $20,000 of renovations will need to be made to the Main Avenue building before it can house JobSource.

Arcaro stressed that the payments for debt reduction will come from the agency’s budget.

“This consolidation will be paid for with ACDJFS monies, requiring no use of the county general fund,” Commissioner Daniel Claypool said.

Lee Ann Walters-Young, administrative services supervisor for the agency, told the board that consolidation will greatly enhance customer service because all of the agency’s human services functions will be at one location.

“People will be able to do all things at one location, that’s the overall end goal,” she said.

“The economies of scale gained in the consolidation do not stop at the money that will be saved,” Commissioner Joe Moroski said in a prepared statement. “In the past the agency had to tell people to leave one site and go to another because a particular function was being done at another location. This eliminates that.”

It also will eliminate the need for staff to travel between the Main Avenue and Donahoe Center locations, thereby making for a more efficient, cost effective and safer work environment for employees.

“In my time as director, the agency has seen a 33 percent decrease in its workforce, or 60 employees,” Arcaro said. “By having the majority of staff in one location, we can better utilize our existing staff without hiring any new employees, therefore eliminating an additional burden on an already strapped budget.”

Arcaro said the agency considered many existing buildings throughout the area, including vacant former retail space in both Ashtabula City and Township. Even the Ashtabula Towne Square was considered, but at the end of the day, an addition to the existing facility made the most sense economically and practically, he said.

“This is the best plan,” Arcaro said.

Kathleen Kinney, executive director of the Donahoe Center Corporation, said the agency will pay an annual $1 per square foot land lease on the expansion. The agency pays and will continue to pay 50 cents per square foot on the existing building. The land lease money is used to repair/resurface parking lots, lighting and other grounds amenities.

“They actually get that money back, so it is a really good deal for everybody,” she said.

Kinney said the expansion fits well with the corporation’s mission to make human services available at one location.

“I think it’s a really good thing. It’s what Donahoe Center was created for years ago, when this property was donated to us,” she said.

Commissioner Peggy Carlo said the board is aware of the impact the move will have on the city of Ashtabula as 43 jobs will move from downtown to the township. Commissioners said the important thing to keep in mind is that the jobs are being retained and clients better served. Carlo said the county has not had any discussions with the city about the need for a Joint Economic Development District (JEDD) at the center because of the regional sewer agreement signed last year.

Commissioner Daniel Claypool said he wants the project broken down into numerous smaller projects so local contractors will be more likely to bid.

“There is no reason why any of our local contractors who are qualified could not do any of this work,” said Kurt Gowins, a project manager with Smolen Engineering.

Gowins said the entire project could be completed and ready for occupancy by the end of 2013, assuming everything fell into place. The next step is for ACDJFS to seek proposals from lenders.

“It has been one of my goals as executive director for the past nine years to consolidate the operations of the agency,” Arcaro said. “It looks like we are finally there.”