Treatment center cleared

Long-sought substance-abuse facility to break ground this spring

March 26, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

A project that spans three Carroll County administrations and more than six years of planning and negotiating with the state will get under way this spring.

The county will break ground on a $3 million long-term drug treatment center by mid-May, officials said.

The project cleared its final hurdle last week, when the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the 15,000-square-foot facility to be built on a seven-acre parcel on the grounds of Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.

Construction costs are budgeted and include a nearly $1.1 million contribution from the state, but funding for the estimated $1.8 million in annual operating costs remains uncertain.

The county has committed $750,000 a year to maintaining the 24-bed center with the expectation that the state would pay the bulk of the remaining costs. The state, however, is wavering on its pledge to keep the facility running, county officials said.

The commissioners have written to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. asking for "leadership in assisting us with our funding dilemma in annual operating costs for this program." In the meantime, the board has opted to move forward with the project.

"We are so close and we have worked so long, and there truly is a need for this," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "If we don't have state money, maybe there are other things we can do to keep it going."

The county wants to see the center staffed, furnished and operational with all beds filled. That can only happen with a fully funded budget, Gouge said.

Jolene Sullivan, county director of citizen services, called the need for the center critical and applauded the commissioners' resolve to move forward.

"At this point, we are still waiting to hear from the governor and can't say anything about changes in operating costs," Sullivan said. "We are still researching all the pieces to determine what is the true cost to run the facility. Hopefully, the projected operating costs will be less than anticipated."

In the first six months of 2005, the latest time frame for which numbers are available, 172 people with heroin-related overdoses were admitted to Carroll Hospital Center, said Mark Yount, the county's substance abuse prevention coordinator.

Most of those seeking treatment were 18 or older, he said.

"The numbers have stayed up, and that concerns us," Yount said. "We have needed this facility, which will treat all types of substance abuse, for a long time. There are many in this county who need long-term help."

The commissioners awarded late last year a design-build contract to Brechbill & Helman of Chambersburg, Pa., which was the lowest of six bidders on the project. The company is handling design and construction.

"The contract says the project must be completed by August 2007," said Tom Rio, chief of the county Bureau of Building Construction.

The one-story building will house as many as 24 patients, most of them 18 to 24, who would voluntarily commit to an intensive rehabilitation program and reside there for as long as two years while undergoing treatment.

The property, which the county is leasing from the state for $1 a year, sits along Buttercup Road, adjacent to the Central Laundry Facility, a minimum-security prison.

The parcel offers enough land to expand the center by an additional 5,564 square feet and double the number of beds to 48.

"We are moving in the right direction and dealing with what needs to be done," said Sullivan. "This will be an excellent facility, and it is so desperately needed."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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