“Size wise, (a new public health building) will definitely have to be bigger,” Des Moines County Public Health Administrator Christa Poggemiller told the supervisors Tuesday during the board’s regular meeting.
Poggemiller said the existing building is lacking in five basic areas: a public restroom, larger waiting and clinic areas, classroom space and better accessibility. The lack of a restroom and size of a waiting room were made very apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic as her office could only sit three people following the six-foot social distancing guidelines.
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Poggemiller also said that staff find it difficult to climb the steep stairs and ramp leading into the building in the wintertime.
Instead, chairman Tom Broker said the county intends to spend the money on necessities, the biggest of which is a new public health building.
The county’s current public health building was built in the 1930s, but the department’s needs have grown beyond what the 2,600-square feet building can provide.
She also noted that there are two floors to the building, with the only way to move between floors being a set of steep stairs, creating barriers for persons with disabilities.
Adequate parking is another issue as the existing public health building is on the same block as the Burlington Public Library and the courthouse.
In addition to its current workload, carrying out STD testing, administering vaccinations against a variety of diseases and conducting disease investigations, Poggemiller said her office also is intended to be used for public education, which is difficult to do without proper classroom space. Broeker said that part of the process of replacing the public health building will be to hire an architect and put together plans for what the new building will look like, then to get an estimate on how much it will cost to build it.
Broeker said is not yet comfortable providing an estimate on how much the county may spend on a new public health building. “We don’t know what a public health building will cost,” Broeker said. “After we know what that will cost us, then we will have a better idea of what will be left.”
Before the county spends any ARP money, Broeker said, he intends to see if Southeast Iowa Regional Planning will oversee the grant, adding that he feels the paperwork involved would be too overwhelming for the auditor’s office to administer on its own. More:The great catch-up: How Des Moines, districts across the state are using summer school to stem COVID learning loss
Even beyond the public health building, the board still has a number of other priorities . A big priority of the board is also to digitize records. Broeker said more and more residents do not want to come to the courthouse to get copies of records but instead would like a way to get a copy of these records online.
Until the county is able to find a way to administer the grant and it is determined how much money the public health building will cost, Broeker said the supervisors just aren’t willing to and tell anybody other than public health that they will see a substantial chunk of change. How else will the American Rescue Plan money be used in Des Moines County?