Northampton County officials look to create centralized Human Services facility

Author: , WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published: Dec 14 2012 12:05:25 AM EST
EASTON, Pa. -

Come late-2013, the Northampton County government could be bidding farewell to its aging Governor Wolf and Bechtel buildings as part of a plan to centralize the Department of Human Services into a new building.

County Council during its Thursday meeting gave County Executive John Stoffa’s administration the okay to move forward with developing a lease agreement Polaris Properties Inc. for a to-be-constructed 66,375-square-foot building at 2801 Emrick Boulevard in Bethlehem Township.

Officials said the relocation will improve services to the more than 18,300 residents the 246-employee department serves and save money over the long-term by allowing the county to sell the Wolf and Bechtel buildings and, in the process, avoid millions of dollars in capital costs to the aging facilities in Easton and Bethlehem.

“This is something that’s been needed for a long time,” Councilwoman Peg Ferraro said. “The new building will be designed for this use rather than having to be adapted.”

Services provided by the Department of Human Services include: Area Agency on Aging; Children and Youth; Veterans Affairs; Drug and Alcohol; Early Intervention; Mental Health; and Weights and Measures.

The administration said the goal is to have construction of the Emrick Boulevard building completed by the end of 2013.

Stoffa’s administration gave an overview of the proposed Human Services relocation just prior to council’s vote on allowing the administration to move forward with the lease. The public presentation was given by Ken Mohr of Mohr Management Resources. Mohr is joined by several county officials serving on a project team that has been meeting to develop the relocation plans.

Mohr started off the presentation by saying that the project team concluded that relocating to a centralized facility was a better option than making a long-term commitment to the Wolf and Bechtel buildings.

It is estimated capital costs would exceed $3.3 million over the next decade to maintain the 120-year-old Wolf building, located on North 2nd Street in Easton, according to Mohr’s presentation. The Bechtel building, located on East Broad Street in Bethlehem, would require about $1 million in capital costs over the next decade. Officials also noted that selling these two buildings will eventually result in their return to the tax rolls.

In the presentation, it was projected that the Wolf and Bechtel building sales could generate about $2.8 million, which would be used toward relocation, interior improvements, furnishings and other costs to get the Emrick Boulevard facility up and running. Stoffa said the administration needs to pinpoint these costs, noting that he wanted council approval first before developing the plan in greater detail.

Relocating to a new centralized facility, Mohr said, will create “one stop shopping” for convenience of clients. The new building would have a more efficient layout with lower operational costs. The building would be surrounded by a large parking lot accommodating 256 vehicles, making it easier for residents to access than the Wolf and Bechtel facilities.

Mohr noted that the five-acre Emrick Boulevard site provides a central, convenient location to county residents. The proposed three-story building site is located on a road that runs parallel to Route 33 between William Penn Highway and Freemansburg Avenue.

The project team unanimously selected the Emrick Boulevard site as the best option among 26 potential properties identified through the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Commission.

Under a proposed 15-year lease agreement with Polaris Properties, the county would pay $773,000 in rent during the first year and $1.09 million during the 15th year. The lease proposal gives the county an option to buy.

Stoffa said Thursday’s complete presentation will be made available on the county website, www.northamptoncounty.org.

In other business during Thursday’s meeting, council voted unanimously to appoint Bath attorney Daniel G. Spengler as County Solicitor effective Jan. 1, 2013, at a salary of $56,782 for the part-time position.

Spengler is replacing Karl Longenbach, who is stepping down at the end of the year.

Longenbach praised the appointment of Spengler, who previously served as County Solicitor for a two-year period.