Leader Blues

Monday, December 10, 2007

TOP STORY >>Hope for new health unit high

Leader staff writer

The new health department that Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams hoped would be approved for funding this year wasn’t, but Dr. Paul Halverson, director of the Arkansas Department of Health, was in town Friday in part to look at the site where the mayor wants the building to go, so hope that it will be approved in 2008 is running high.

“We’re pretty confident that we’ll be funded, but it’s not a given,” said Milton Garris, administrator for the health departments in Cabot and Lonoke.”

Halverson does not sit on the committee that will recommend in March which projects will be next in line for 90 percent state funding, but Garris said Halverson’s recommendation for a new Cabot facility would carry weight with the committee and with the board of directors of the Arkansas Department of Health which will vote on the committee’s recommendations in April.

Currently, Jacksonville, Star City and Cabot, in that order, are in line for funding. But Ed Barham, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Health, said after the meeting in Cabot that the order could change during the March committee meeting.

“We have more needs than we do funding,” Barham said. “But we do believe this is a worthy project and we’d like to be able to help.”

Proponents of building a new facility like Williams, Garris and District Director Carey Woods, say that at 1,200-square-feet, the old facility is too small for a growing area like Cabot.

Woods said the Cabot Health Department needs to expand its services for women and children, and to place more emphasis on communicable diseases like tuberculosis that are on the rise. “It never really went away, but it’s making a comeback,” Garris said.

Williams is determined to keep the downtown area alive and for that reason he wants the proposed 16,000-square-foot facility to be built on the vacant lot beside the old post office on South First Street that housed the public works until recently when that city department moved to the old Community Bank building beside city hall.

The plans for the new facility have already been drawn by architect Bob Schelle. The city will donate the lot.

To make such a large structure fit in the relatively small space, it will be attached to the old post office. Williams said the façade of that old building will be updated to make it match the new one.

Halverson was complimentary of the plan that Williams laid out and appeared pleased with the location.

He also commented on how important it is for growing cities to attempt to improve infrastructure to meet the needs of residents.

Williams said the location of the current health department is the worst possible.

It is located beside the library and senior citizen center, but if someone doesn’t know where those two facilities are it would be nearly impossible to give directions to the health department, he said.

The proposed new facility would be easy to access and within walking distance of pharmacies.