Disabled and special needs department looks forward to much-bigger building

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Disabled and special needs department looks forward to much-bigger building

By MARTI COVINGTON mcovington@beaufortgazette.com 843-986-5502
Published Friday, June 19, 2009 in The Island Packet  |  483 Words  |  news

Space is so tight at the Beaufort County Disabilities and Special Needs building in Port Royal that nearly half of its 104 day program clients are bused to partnering agencies in Beaufort and Hilton Head Island.
But room for the growing number of adults using the county's disabilities programs isn't the only concern the department has about its location at 1804 Old Shell Road, whereit has been since 1995.
"We have some people that are incontinent. That means we're changing diapers every day, and the room that we have to change people in does not even have running water," said Mitzi Wagner, who has lead the department for nine years. "From the day I walked in, we knew that this was not a good place."
Wagner and other county officialslook forward to September 2010, when a newbuilding is slated to open at Castle Rock and Grober Hill roadsin Burton.
At 25,000 to 26,000 square feet -- and with multiple training rooms, staff offices, a full kitchen and cafeteria and pottery and crafts area -- the new building will dwarf the department's current 9,830-square-foot home.
Grace Dennis, a member of the Disabilities and Special Needs Board, has been involved with county disability services for at least 25 years. Dennis' daughter, Beth, has Down syndrome.
"The biggest thing is that right now, there are those people who are not receiving services because we simply don't have the space and we don't have the funding," Dennis said.
"We worry because there are those young people who are coming out of the public school system. For all these years they've had structured programs, places to go and things to do, and then that ends at 21. This is why we are so anxious to have space and programs to meet their needs."
The new building will house 48 full-time staff members; provide space for all 104 clients in the department's day program and meeting space for staff consultations with more than 300 families; and address the department's space needs for the next five to 10 years.
"We want to help the families as much as we possibly can, and when it's all said and done, the community will feel very good about what we're building for this group," said county administrator Gary Kubic, who has championed a new building since 2004.
The project could cost as much as$8.6 million. Beaufort County Council approved $5.2 million for the project in 2006 -- $850,000 of which was spent to buy the 10 acres where the new building will be located.
Liolio Architecture drafted three construction plans that range in cost from $5.83 million to $6.4 million. Department officials have applied for state and federal grants to help pay for the project.
Kubic asked for a base bid with optional features, so "we could pick and choose what we would pay for, but we didn't want to stop the process based on lack of funds."