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Health District could relocate to government center

Following the lead of CenCom and the county coroner’s office, the health agency serving Kitsap and its cities is looking to move out of its antiquated digs and into a new headquarters.

The Bremerton-Kitsap County Health District is about a month away from deciding whether to move into the roughly $24 million regional government center to be built in downtown Bremerton by mid-2004.

If the agency moves, it will occupy about 30,000 square feet, or one-fourth, of the government center. Meanwhile, the health district’s satellite offices, located in Poulsbo and Port Orchard would remain open.

“We need a healthy building to better demonstrate healthy living,” said health district director Scott Lindquist. “This building has served us, but was not set up for health district purposes.”

The district, established more than five decades ago, occupies a two-story building, part of which was built in the 1940s and served as a Navy barracks.

“We just need functional space for staff,” Lindquist said. “Space enough for employees to eat their lunches in a break room and space enough to safely store a purse or personal belongings.”

While the need is clear, the health district board — comprised of county commissioners, mayors and city officials — wasn’t willing to plunge ahead with a decision.

Health District staffers were directed to provide board members with a more complete fiscal analysis of the move.

“Let’s get a better funding picture,” said Bainbridge Island Mayor Darlene Kordonowy. “We need to determine the tradeoffs for the short term and long term.”

The health district started to sock away funds in a building reserve last year and currently has about $200,000, with officials predicting another $300,000 to come this year.

But no one can predict if that total will remain untouched in reserves during the current budget cycle.

Moving into the regional government center would cost the district roughly $6 million over a 30-year period. Another option discussed — building a new headquarters on the existing health district site — would also cost about $6 million.

“Like with most anything else, funding is the key,” said Poulsbo Mayor Donna Jean Bruce.

Kitsap County Commissioner Tim Botkin said there are various funding opportunities in the form of grants if the health district co-locates in a regional building — one that helps with economic development.

Jurisdictions currently served by the health district could be asked to pitch in as well. Already, the county and its four major cities pay a portion of the district’s operating budget.

Aside from grants and local funding, the land on which the current headquarters sits could perhaps be packaged and sold to help fund the move.

Officials say by next year, the Navy will convey ownership, without restriction, of the barracks and the land on which it sits, to the health district. An adjacent parcel that serves as a parking lot will be similarly conveyed to the health district in 2017. As it is, the current land agreement between the district and the federal government states that the property must be used for public health purposes.

Health officials are talking about looking into the possibility of acquiring the parking lot property — located off of Austin Drive — earlier so that both parcels can be sold as one package, and the health district requested the City of Bremerton change the zoning on the property to business use.

“The Navy has been a great neighbor,” Lindquist said. “We must need more space.”

One small waiting area and four tiny exam rooms serve the clinics stationed at the health district headquarters including family planning services, the HIV clinic, a TB clinic and the immunization clinic.

Many staff members feel too hemmed in at their work stations within the labrynthine building.

One woman could barely turn around in her chair on a recent Tuesday because her desk, storage area and work station formed an uncomfortable U-shape.

When asked where staff members generally eat their lunch, one employee said, “In our cars.”

The county originally intended to move one-third its workforce and several offices from the courthouse to the regional government center proposed for downtown Bremerton. But in February, a Pierce County Superior Court judge torpedoed those plans.

The Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority, the agency set to develop the government center, wants to line up prospective tenants as soon as possible. The housing authority plans to put the project out to bid by this November.

Health District staffers plan to provide health board members with a more complete financial picture in the coming weeks so a decision can be made.

Kitsap County Commissioner Chris Endresen requested more information about the effect such a move could have on satellite offices and the communities they serve.

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