Health and Human Services actively looking for rental space in Ossipee area
October 20, 2011OSSIPEE— With cuts to the budget and the expanded use of technology to better serve its clients, NH Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has plans to consolidate some of its district offices. They have issued a Request for Proposals to seek out office space in Ossipee or in a surrounding town.
Though they hadn't yet seen the RFP, county commissioners asked the county delegation earlier this month to consider converting 10,000 square feet of the old nursing home into a space that DHHS could lease from the county. The 14-member county delegation, made up of state representatives who also voted to make deep cuts to the DHHS state budget, appear unwilling to change their mind and want all four wings of the old home torn down and only the core of the building to remain. The feeling was not unanimous, however, as one delegate, Steve Schmidt (R-Wolfeboro) called the entire building a money pit and said it should all be torn down. And on the other side of the argument, Harry Merrow (R-Ossipee) argued nothing should be done until all possible opportunities for the county are considered.
Commissioners are currently in the planning and design stage working with the Carroll County branch of UNH Cooperative Extension to move them out of the county-funded lease space in Conway and into the old nursing home. The old home, known now as the Carroll County Annex, also houses the pellet boiler system that heats the new nursing home as well as the county laundry facilities and maintenance area.
The commissioners and the delegation are at odds regarding the Annex building. While the delegates voted twice to keep only the 15,000 square foot core and tear down all four wings, the commissioners want to keep the core and at least two wings.
County Commissioner Chair David Sorensen said UNH Cooperative Extension is hoping to use 4,500 square feet of the old home with renovations less extensive and more cost-saving than originally estimated.
The DHHS request for proposals can be found in detail at their Web site, http://www.dhhs.nh.gov/business/rfp/index.htm, titled as "Wanted to Rent in Ossipee or Surrounding Towns of Conway, Eaton, Madison, Freedom or Effingham."
At the Oct. 3 delegation meeting, Sorensen asked delegates to reconsider their vote to tear down the wings and consider the possibility of DHHS and its 45 employees relocating to the county complex in Ossipee.
Mark McConkey (R-Freedom) spoke against reopening the discussion. "These contracts are usually for a four-year period and then extended at that point. I am cautious to even open this conversation again. Number one it looks like they are going to move quickly to relocate these people. Number two, we would be doing a potential rehab of a facility of 10,000 square feet. I wouldn't even consider moving out to the wings. Lastly, the good people of this county would be making an investment for that we typically amortize for 15 to 20 year period that we have security for no more than a four-year term," said McConkey.
According to the RFP, the DHHS wants to "rent in Ossipee or surrounding towns of Conway, Eaton, Madison, Freedom or Effingham, New Hampshire for a term of five or alternately 10 years commencing June 1, 2012, approximately 10,000 to 12,000 square feet of space for use by the State of NH Department of Health and Human Services to provide a new regional office." Letters of interest are due to DHHS by Nov. 11.
"The county is not in the business of making money and taking away rentals from business people in the private sector," said McConkey.
The 29-point RFP describes in detail what a proposal for a suitable space would look like. The space must be renovated to DHHS specifications, have barrier-free access and clean indoor air, 26 parking spaces, and must meet one of two open-concept floor plans that are attached to the RFP.
"If we destroy the wings we will never be able to have the opportunity to use it for some benefit for the people of this county and for the taxpayers of this county," argued Commissioner Dorothy Solomon when trying to convince the delegates to reverse their decision to tear down all four wings. Solomon said that even if contracting with DHHS is not an option; the delegates should mothball the four wings in favor of a possible future use rather than destroying the building for no good reason.
The delegates decided not to reconsider their vote, sticking with the plan to tear down all four wings. Further, they are interested in hearing whatever possible uses for the core that the commissioners come up with. The core is not big enough, argued commissioners, to house the county utilities, UNH Cooperative Extension, and DHHS.
At the Oct. 12 weekly commissioner's meeting, former commissioner Chip Albee said of the delegates, "the only Tea Party they are members of is from Alice in Wonderland and not the one from Boston." Rather than tearing down any part of the building, he said, it's time for the commissioners to stop haggling with the delegation and instead offer the entire building to the private sector. He said the county could lease the whole building to an individual or company who could then sublet it out to whoever they see fit.
Representatives have listed among their reasons for voting to tear down all wings that they do not want to leave empty space for government to grow in the future.
"What government should and shouldn't be doing is not the issue. The issue is they want to qualify themselves as bonafide members of the movement to destroy things," said Albee. Tearing down the wings, he said, he similar to the county's finance manager cashing a check for $200,000 and setting the cash on fire in the parking lot. "Either way, you've spent money and end up with nothing", he said.
"The delegation doesn't want to see government grow, create revenue to help offset taxes, or be landlords, "said Sorensen.
For now, the vote stands that the commissioners are authorized to put together a renovation plan for the core of the Carroll County Annex with a price tag of not more than $1,000,000, and bring it to the delegation. The estimated cost for tearing down the wings is $200,000.