Wake County

Wake County considers new $61 million public health campus

Wake County is considering consolidating human services near New Bern Avenue in east Raleigh.
Wake County is considering consolidating human services near New Bern Avenue in east Raleigh.

Wake County might build a public health campus in east Raleigh in hopes of making it easier for a growing number of residents to gain access to health care, food assistance, job opportunities and affordable housing.

County staff last week presented a master plan to overhaul the facilities of the human services department, including the creation of a campus hub at the corner of Falstaff and Swinburne roads near WakeMed Hospital.

The $61 million project would eliminate the need for residents seeking multiple services to make the 18-minute walk from the public health building on Sunnybrook Road to the human services building on Swinburne.

“We want services to move through the facility, not the client,” said John de Haro, a project manager with Wake County. “The current public health building on Sunnybrook, it’s an aged building with very high facilities cost. It would be very hard to apply our workplace transformations to that space.”

A comprehensive look at human services is overdue, said Mark Forestieri, Wake’s director of facilities, design and construction. The county already has master plans for food security, affordable housing, justice, libraries and greenways, but not human services.

With a budget this year of $181 million, the human services department’s spending is second only to education in the county’s $1.26 billion budget. More than one-third of county employees work for human services in several facilities that can’t accommodate much more growth, according to last week’s presentation.

Wake now has a population that exceeds 1 million.

The master plan, in its early stages, also recommends leasing more office space for administrative staff in order to free up room to expand services in other county-owned properties. Five other offices throughout Wake could undergo renovations.

It’s unclear how the county would pay for the projects. It could ask voters through a bond referendum for permission to borrow the money.

County staff says it makes sense to build a campus at Falstaff and Swinburne roads. In addition to WakeMed, the WakeBrook mental health and addiction center and the Holly Hill psychiatric facility are nearby.

Wake Commissioner Matt Calabria suggested designating some county-owned space, including on a public health campus, for affordable housing. Interim County Manager David Ellis said the suggestion was “definitely appropriate, but we need to figure out if it’s appropriate for any of these sites.”

Commissioners also directed staff to focus on service gaps. The county has service centers in Fuquay-Varina in southern Wake, Zebulon in eastern Wake and Wake Forest in northern Wake.

“I want to state the obvious, that there’s no Western Wake Regional Center,” Jessica Holmes, chairwoman of the commissioners, said last week. “I hope we can make that a serious part of this conversation.”

The western part of Wake County is home to many affluent neighborhoods, but commissioners say needs there are expected to grow. Residents are now served by a variety of nonprofits and county partners, including Dorcas Ministries in Cary.

Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan