Ribbon cut on new Warren complex
FRONT ROYAL – Warren County officials cut the ribbon Monday on the long-awaited Health and Human Services Complex in the former 15th Street School.
The facility at 465 W. 15th St., Front Royal, houses the Department of Social Services and the Health Department. Representatives of Front Royal, the county and the agencies, as well as Moseley Architects and Lance Construction of Winchester were on hand to commemorate the completion of the facility. The county plans to hold an open house for the public in the spring.
Longtme Social Services Department worker Renee Pearson stood at her desk among several cubicles in the facility.
“I’m excited,” said Pearson, with the agency for 18 years. “I think it’s beautiful. It’s great for the county employees. I think the public’s really going to feel a lot better about coming into it when they’re coming in asking for help.”
The complex serves as one of the last of many, large-scale initiatives on the county’s capital projects list, County Administrator Douglas Stanley said. He noted later that the project and others were delayed by the recession.
“It was their turn to have the needs of their departments addressed,” Stanley said. “Thank you for being patient. This is a good example of good things come to those who wait.”
The Department of Social Services operated at 912 Warren Ave. but has outgrown the aging building. Now the agency and the Health Department operate in what once housed the John S. Mosby Academy, the 15th Street School and Warren County Middle School.
Social Services Director Beth Reavis commented on the new facility.
“Well it’s really good to know that people listened to me when I whined and complained,” Reavis said. “I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful I feel about this and this opportunity that we have.”
Reavis started working in social services in 1971 and recalled that those departments usually operated out of the worst buildings in the localities because the communities didn’t want “those people” nearby and that gave the wrong message to her.
Reavis said she felt “so proud of Warren County” for building “a beautiful and exciting and vibrant and uplifting environment for our folks to come and my folks to work.”
“This building is a testament to how we feel about the people we serve and the people in our community that need our help,” Reavis said.
Outgoing Shenandoah District Supervisor Richard Traczyk commented on the project’s completion and noted that it comes at the end of his political career.
“By the comments I’ve received from friends and neighbors in the area, this facility is quite a change from the old school that was here,” Traczyk said.
Traczyk said Reavis sometimes carried a plunger or a shoehorn, the latter as a hint to the lack of space in the old building.
“Hopefully this’ll take care of those growth problems,” Traczyk said.
Housing the two departments in the same facility should help improve communication between the agencies, Traczyk said.
Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox serves on the county’s building committee with other officials. The building’s history goes back to 1959 when Virginia closed schools to fight desegregation. Fox noted that the Warren County Educational Foundation started to help educate students in the locality using whatever spaces they could find and thus the Mosby Academy was formed.
Fox and Traczyk toured the 15th Street facility years ago and the former noted that while it needed work, the main part of the structure appeared sound. That information helped the building committee come up with its recommendation to renovate and reuse the facility.
“It’s something that Warren County deserves and it’s something that’s very much needed and I was glad to be a part of it,” Fox said.
David Crabtree, with the Lord Fairfax Health District, lauded the leadership and vision of the supervisors and Stanley for creating the new facility.
“This reality will enhance the health and lives of those we serve and have a profound, everlasting effect on this community,” Crabtree said.
The county constructed a new middle school by renovating the high school, rather than to upgrade the 15th Street building, in 2010, Stanley noted. The county conducted a study in 2006 that determined the needs for the Department of Social Services and the Health Department. The Board of Supervisors then decided to turn the 15th Street facility into a complex that could combine the departments and possibly the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging. Reusing the 15th Street property made sense, Stanley said. Renovations began in 2012 with the gutting of the building, asbestos removal and installation of a new roof at a cost of approximately $2.5 million.
The county has spent approximately $5.5 million over the past year and a half to renovate the parking lot and the portion of the building for the two agencies. The county used funds from its reserves to pay for the project. The departments will repay the county for the cost of the project through a 30-year lease agreement. The facility has more space in which the agencies can grow or be used for other purposes.
The project resulted in the renovation of about 37,000 square feet – 9,200 square feet for the Department of Social Services, 8,100 for the Health Department plus an addition of about 2,400 square feet. The remaining 17,300 square feet was finished for future use. The project also included work on the former school gymnasium for use by the Parks and Recreation Department.
Future plans call for the school division’s maintenance department to relocate to the 15th Street facility and for the renovations of the cafeteria for use by the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging as a new senior center, Stanley said. The school division will use the former library for its alternative education program.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org