Moving costs cloud plans for new Lexington health clinic for poor

who'll foot bill for non-profit currently at site?

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comJanuary 20, 2012 

Using part of a federal grant to put a new health clinic in a city-owned building on Georgetown Street seemed to be well under way, but now a new question looms: Who will pay relocation costs for the current tenant?

HealthFirst of the Bluegrass executive director William North said last week that Lexington's Urban County Council was expected to vote on a lease agreement next week, with renovation to the building at 913 Georgetown Street to begin this spring.

But at Thursday's meeting of the HealthFirst board of directors, chairman Thomas Lester said he'd received an email detailing the relocation needs of Community Action Council, the building's current tenant. Jack Burch, executive director of Community Action, said relocation could cost more than $367,000.

The issue is the latest hurdle for an $11.7 million federal grant for a health clinic to serve Fayette County's poor. Local officials have long said the grant money, part of the federal stimulus package, needs to be spent by September, or it could be lost.

In October 2010, HealthFirst, formerly the Primary Care Center, announced a joint venture with the Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board to build a facility. That deal fell apart during months of turmoil at the Primary Care Center, which until recently operated under the umbrella of the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department. The turmoil led to the resignation of Dr. Melinda Rowe, the health commissioner.

The original focus has shifted from building a clinic to renovating a space. North said last week that HealthFirst planned to lease the Georgetown Street property for a nominal fee from the Urban County Government. The Community Action Council, a non-profit organization that helps the poor, has had a similar agreement for decades and offers several services at that location.

Burch and North agree that a clinic to replace and expand HealthFirst operations, now housed at the main health department building at 650 Newtown Pike, would be a good use of the Georgetown Street building. The question: Who will foot the moving bill?

Burch did not attend the HealthFirst board meeting but said Thursday that some services would remain at the site — about 7,000 square feet of the 21,000-square-foot main building would continue to house the West End Center and the council's central kitchen. Office and parking space for the Community Action transportation unit also would remain on Georgetown Street, he said.

A training center, offices for staff and a warehouse would need to be moved, he said.

Burch said the training services can relocate to the council's Winburn Center. A preliminary estimate of that cost is $367,000. Community Action has applied for that amount from the Department for Health and Human Services to help with relocation. Typically, Burch said, the department doesn't fund the full amount requested.

It's unclear whether any of the $11.7 million federal grant could be used for relocation of Community Action. HealthFirst board member Tom Burich wondered at Thursday's meeting why the city, as landlord, wouldn't be responsible for the relocation of Community Action.

He said he'd never heard of a situation where "a tenant was liable for relocating another tenant." The HealthFirst board also talked of a possible second clinic location in the former Verizon building on Harrodsburg Road.

Reach Mary Meehan at (859) 231-3261 or 1-800-350-5697, Ext. 3261.

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