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Published: Friday, 8/15/2008

Lucas County agency weighed for United Way building

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Konop Konop
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Touting the possibility of adding 400 jobs downtown along with saving a landmark structure, Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop has urged the county to consider moving its offices of Job and Family Services into the local United Way headquarters.

Commissioners Tina Skeldon Wozniak and Peter Gerken both agree it's an idea worth exploring.

Last week, the United Way of Greater Toledo announced its board voted to build a new, smaller structure, and raze the current building, which many consider a downtown landmark. The expense of operating the building at One Stranahan Square is too great, as would be the $10 million cost to renovate it, United Way officials have said.

Mr. Konop plans to introduce his resolution during the commissioners' weekly meeting Tuesday asking the United Way to look at other options before its planned demolition - in particular the possibility of relocating Job and Family Services.

He said he respects the United Way's need to build a new facility, but wants to see if another use can be found for the struc-ture before it is torn down.

Deb Ortiz-Flores, executive director of Job and Family Services, said she is open to the idea, as the county has been talking about options for housing the agency after 2010, when the bond debt for the office at 3210 Monroe St. will be paid off.

County officials also previously have discussed the idea of merging offices with the Lucas County Child Support Enforcement Agency, 701 Adams St.

Ms. Ortiz-Flores said it is important that the agency, where ever it is located, be accessible to public transit.

"That [Monroe Street] building is not a well-functioning building," Mr. Konop said. "It's extremely inefficient, it's dilapidated. It's isolated." The 400 workers there don't have the broad economic impact they could have downtown, he said.

Besides saving the building and the economic benefit Job and Family Services employees would bring downtown, moving that agency could improve the county's efficiency, Mr. Konop said.

"There is a constant flow of JFS employees to Government Center and back," he said, adding that putting Job and Family Services next door to a new United Way headquarters could benefit that agency too.

Job and Family Services served more than 30,000 families in 2007, authorizing nearly $1 billion worth of assistance from state, local, and federal funds for programs such as food stamps and Medicaid, according to the agency's 2007 annual report.

Bill Kitson, United Way president and CEO, said he discussed moving Job and Family Services to the building with Steve Seaton, the agency's director of support services, several months ago, and was told the building would be too small to house the agency's offices.

Both the Job and Family Services office and the United Way building have about 100,000 square feet of floor space.

"We're continuing to move forward with our project," Mr. Kitson said. "If the commissioners want to come over and look at the building, they are welcome to do so. No dirt has been turned and no shovels are in the ground yet, but we are moving forward."

The United Way has estimated at $6 million the cost of constructing a new, smaller headquarters on what is now its parking lot and converting the existing building's land into a park.

The United Way wants to replace the building because of its high operating costs, which in turn have created difficulty in finding tenants for rental space designed into it when it was built four decades ago. The 1969-vintage building also does not comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The building's condition would have to be addressed in any county occupancy proposal, Mr. Konop said, adding, "We're not looking for a palatial location for our government agencies. We just need a functional building."

Ms. Wozniak said the commissioners would have to study the proposal thoroughly and examine the building.

Similarly, Mr. Gerken said, "There's potential. But we have to be a good steward of taxpayer funds, just as the United Way has to be a good steward of donor funds."

University of Toledo President Lloyd Jacobs is scheduled to tour the building today to see if his institution might have a use for it.

Contact Kate Giammarise at:

kgiammarise@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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