The Columbia County Board of County Commissioners voted to move forward with a legislative request for a new $14.5-16 million health clinic at a special meeting on Tuesday.
David Kraus, county manager, said the cost came in lower than expected. Moving through the Florida Legislature, he said the county would see if they could get funding in the next session.
If the Legislature allows, the clinic could double as the county’s emergency shelter. To meet minimum code requirements, the county needs $14.5 million, but the weather hardening takes the price up to $16 million.
Thomas Moffses Jr., director of the Columbia County Health Department, said South Florida residents overran Lake City during Hurricane Irma in 2017.
The special needs shelter hit capacity and forced the county to open additional shelters. With weather hardening to the clinic, Moffses said the new clinic would take the role as the primary special needs shelter and the Westside shelter would provide backup.
The additional shelter would double Columbia County’s capacity.
Moffses recommended the county commission split the request between multiple years because of the high cost. He said if the Legislature approved the funds over two years, the second batch of funding would still come just in time for construction.
Commissioner Ron Williams said staff needs to ensure the site and building schematics allow the county to add a second story. In 30 years, Williams said the county could build up instead of relocating.
Moffses said the county will need to educate its Tallahassee contingent. He said legislatures see the Department of Health on the request and assume the funding is for the state department, not a county.
He said that snag has hung up health department related builds in the past. The Legislature needs to see that the request for funds is coming from Columbia County.
Kraus also asked the commissioners if they wanted to search for land to buy for the clinic or approach the Lake Shore Hospital Authority about using its empty parcels in downtown Lake City.
The commission directed Klaus to work on the hospital authority first. But, earlier in the meeting, the commission directed Klaus to get an appraisal on the Lake City Reporter building as the first step in a potential bid.
County staff said they need more space and are looking for a location that can serve as a one-stop shop for development needs, housing building, zoning, planning and environmental health staffers.