MAHONING COUNTY Wanted: a place for job, family-service agencies

It's the second time county commissioners have sought a new home for the agencies.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners are going house-shopping.
Actually, it's office space they need, but it's to house the county's Department of Job and Family Services. Commissioners are nearly ready to seek bids for 118,500 square feet of space they need for the two-division agency.
Last year, the county merged its department of human services and child support enforcement agency to form the DJFS. They are still housed in separate offices, though.
The human services division is in McGuffey Plaza on North Garland Avenue, and CSEA is in the Erie Terminal building downtown on Commerce Street.
Reason for move: Having the agencies so far apart makes it difficult for them to meet their clients' needs, said Dee Crawford, JFS executive director. She said the agencies often share common clients.
Putting all employees in one building will provide more convenient access for consumers and make it easier for workers to interact and share information, she said.
James Fortunato, purchasing director, said the county's lease for the Erie Terminal offices expires Oct. 14, and the lease at McGuffey Plaza is on a month-to-month basis. Commissioners will seek extensions on the leases until new space is found.
Previous search: It's the second time the county has sought new quarters for CSEA and DHS.
In 1999, they advertised for bids for office space for those two agencies and the Children Services Board, which is in the South Side Annex on Market Street, in the Uptown district.
They pulled the project off the table, though, because of a state initiative under the Workforce Investment Act, which merged the Ohio Department of Human Services and Bureau of Employment Services.
Commissioners wanted to wait to see whether they would be required to include the local OBES office in the relocation, so they did not proceed with the office hunt. Once the confusion cleared, they put the plan back on the table.
CSB is not included this time, though, said county Administrator Gary Kubic. Commissioners plan to move CSB out of the annex but will keep it separate from the other agencies.
Kubic said CSB has a different function from the other agencies and is funded through a property tax, which makes it self-sustaining. The two JFS agencies are funded largely by state grants.
Another reason for halting the 1999 bidding was that the specifications drawn up by commissioners were too confusing, Kubic said.
"We asked for too many things and too many options," he said. "This time, we have narrowed down the options dramatically."
Time frame: Bids for new office space can be sought once commissioners approve the project specifications, which could be as soon as next week, Fortunato said.
Bidders can offer to put up a new building or renovate an existing building, he said. Ample parking for workers and consumers will be among the priority factors.
"We want that access," Kubic said. "We want people to be able to pull up, get service and get back to their car with ease."
The new site must also be within easy walking distance of public transportation, Fortunato said.
It's important for commissioners to take their time and find the best possible home for the agencies, and the best possible lease arrangement for the county, because "this could potentially be the home for this agency for the next 20 years."

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