Wake County now has a population of more than one million, and it’s growing more, some estimates by more than 60 people a day. Thus it’s no surprise that the human services offered by the county that once might have been adequate are falling behind – or could, if something isn’t done.
For some county officials thankfully in influential positions, “done” means a new public health campus in east Raleigh. The facilities of the human services department would be overhauled under a fresh master plan from the county staff. A hub of services would be created at the corner of Falstaff and Swinburne roads near the WakeMed campus. The project would cost $61 million, a substantial amount that makes sense given the human services department’s budget of $181 million.
That department is second only to public education in the county budget.
And here’s another reason all this makes sense: More than one-third of county employees work in human services, and they’re spread out in several facilities. Officials who put together the plan for a human services hub say those facilities are about at capacity.
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What a new hub would make possible is for those residents who need different services to be able to move through the departments offering those services without that 18-minute walk from the public health building on Sunnybrook Road to the human services building on Swinburne.
“We want services,” said John de Haro, a Wake project manager, “to move through the facility, not the client. The current public health building on Sunnybrook, it’s an aged building with very high facilities costs. It would be very hard to apply our workplace transformations to that space.”
The county’s facilities director, Mark Forestieri, says the county already has all sorts of master plans dealing with affordable housing, libraries, greenways, etc., and needs this plan to move ahead for human services.
It should be noted that the county has a good track record on big projects, with the Justice Center, now state-of-the-art, having come in early and under budget. So there is reason for residents to be optimistic that, if they approved a bond referendum to allow borrowing for the project for one example, the work would be done efficiently.
The county does have ongoing needs for affordable housing, and that’s something on the minds of commissioners whenever a new project idea comes up. But this sounds like a need that is immediate and one that will make services work better for more people. Affordable housing remains a priority for commissioners and for the city of Raleigh, but the goals for more such housing are long-term ones – on which officials must maintain a focus, certainly. Short-term needs still demand attention, however.