Delta County board ponders office space

ESCANABA – What can be done with nearly 15,000 square feet of open space? This was the question Delta County officials and various community agency representatives tried to answer during a meeting at the Delta County Service Center Tuesday afternoon.

The 15,000 square feet became available when Delta County’s Michigan Department of Human Services relocated from the Service Center on College Avenue to the State Office Building on Ludington Street in July. No decision was made during the meeting, but several recommendations were made about what to do with the vacant space.

“One of the things the board has talked about is possibly using part of the space as an official county board meeting area,” said County Board Chairman Tom Elegeert, who noted it could serve more of a multi-purpose function to other agencies located in the Service Center.

Elegeert said one portion of former DHS space temporarily houses the archives of the Delta County Historical Society during their museum addition. After the society clears this small space, it will house Delta County’s building and zoning department, which will move from its current location in the courthouse due to space shortage there.

Mike Snyder, administrator of Public Health – Delta & Menominee Counties, said his office could potentially use some of the remaining 15,000 square feet of space for a conference room, which could serve the purpose of holding classes such as its evening highway safety classes or even regional meetings.

“A lot of times when these state departments, either the Michigan Department of Agriculture or Michigan Department of Community Health has a regional meeting for the U.P. health departments, we’re always traveling to Marquette because the Marquette health department has … a large enough meeting room to house all of the U.P. health departments,” he said.

Typically these meetings hold between 35 to 50 people, which is more than what the health department is currently capable of holding. Snyder said having a regional meeting locally would be nice and would save them on some traveling.

Delta County Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Berbohm added to that idea, saying a conference room could also double as an Emergency Operation Center.

According to Berbohm, the county has a plan to respond to any disaster. Currently, heads of local departments, such as the county sheriff, chairman of the county board, administrator of public health, and others meet in one location to address any problems in the wake of a disaster or emergency.

“Right now we typically would rally at Escanaba Public Safety … and when the stuff hits the fan and everybody’s talking, it gets very convoluted, but if you had a larger room, you can separate out and actually create work stations,” he said.

Berbohm is currently looking at grant opportunities, including one for a portable smart message board, where information could be posted as could any diagrams or maps of where an incident occurs.

In a large scale scenario, Berbohm said he envisions 14 to 20 people using the space, each completing vital tasks related to responding to the disaster.

“That’s not an item that’s used every day. It’s a rarity, but yet to have that here so that when we did our exercises and drills … I see a real good use for that,” he said. “My only concern would be … we’d want to add a back-up power source, which I think would increase the value of that conference room then also.”

Delta County Sheriff Gary Ballweg, expanding on Berbohm’s suggestion, noted another idea may be to move Central Dispatch to the location. However, he acknowledged this would be an expensive option that takes a lot of work.

Commissioner Mary Harrington recommended renting the space out for wedding receptions and other events, though Elegeert noted the board had to be careful not to compete with the private sector.

Another suggestion was to consult Bay College or the YMCA to see if they would want to rent the space. It could even potentially be used for job training.

“If you can extend it to the companies and organizations, the ones that are doing large-scale employee trainings continue to be NewPage and OSF that would need a large training type facility,” said Delta County Economic Development Alliance Director Vicki Schwab. Currently these companies work with M-TEC, Bay College, and Michigan Works! to fit their needs, she said.

Board members agreed to consult Bay College, the YMCA, Michigan Works! and Pathways Community Mental Health to see if they might be able to use the space, and agreed to continue discussing the topic at a later time.

In other business, the board briefly discussed board meeting security in light of recent national incidents.

Some items discussed were having the sheriff or a sheriff’s deputy on hand, limiting the number of entrances open to the building, and improving the courthouse’s security camera system. The board will soon meet with Berbohm, Ballweg, and other sheriff’s representatives to come up with a plan on board meeting security.