The Virginia Department of Health will eventually be in need of new office space in Nelson County, and the Nelson Heritage Center continues to take steps to become that home.
Currently housed at the Blue Ridge Medical Center in Colleen, the department’s lease is set to expire at the end of next year, according to Brittani Gowen, the center’s marketing communications manager and graphic designer. Originally set to expire at the end of this year, Gowen said in an email Tuesday BRMC has extended the lease for an additional year.
BRMC had planned to develop that space for its pediatric department, but those plans have been delayed because of the pandemic, Gowen said.
In his most recent update to the Nelson County Board of Supervisors July 14, Larry Stopper, a member of the Nelson Heritage Center at 1653 Thomas Nelson Highway in Arrington, said the center has undertaken two inspections: one of the foundation of the heritage center, performed by Lynchburg-based Architectural Partners, and an asbestos survey performed by Lynchburg-based Hurt & Proffitt Inc.
“So because of the urgency surrounding the needs of the health department to find a new home and the desire of the Nelson Heritage Center to be that home, we proceeded with the [two] inspections despite … the heritage center not having the budgetary flexibility to pay the combined cost of those inspections,” Stopper said to supervisors.
Supervisors unanimously approved a request from the Nelson Heritage Center to pay for the two surveys, which according to Stopper cost about $3,300. Stopper said he was “deeply appreciative” of the funding.
Stopper told supervisors that local health department officials appeared to be satisfied with the available space. The inspection of the foundation concluded that the building was ready for occupancy and heritage center board members still were awaiting results regarding asbestos. However, Stopper said Monday the heritage center has received positive news overall regarding the status of asbestos in the building.
The Nelson County Heritage Center has been in talks with health department officials on locating offices at the center for more than a month, Stopper said.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the heritage center has been unable to generate income beyond what it has received through donations. Without that income, Stopper said the heritage center would be pressed to pay for the two studies on its own.
“We believe that there is a great deal of potential for symbiotic relationship. They can aid the heritage center in financial stability and we can aid the health department in location stability,” Stopper said.
Aside from the potential mutual benefits, Stopper said housing the Virginia Department of Health offices would fit in with other long term goals of the center has in regards to public health initiatives.
Should the heritage center become the new home of the department of health offices, about 4,500 square feet of existing space would be renovated and converted to meet health department criteria. Minutes from a previous board of supervisors meeting in June quote Stopper as advising board members that these renovations could cost anywhere between $30,000 and $50,000.
As of Monday, there still was no final estimate on what renovating a substantial portion of the building would be.
Carter said while it is important to have department of health offices in the county, it has been a struggle to find spaces that can adequately meet certain size requirements as well as renovations needing to be made to meet other health department criteria, including adequate parking, space and being handicap accessible.
The heritage center was constructed in 1960 and served as a high school for Black students until integration in the late 1960s. From 1966 to 2003, the building housed the Nelson County Middle School until the new school was built.
Carter noted supervisors also have considered the potential to construct an entirely new location to house the department of health offices, but no decision has been made.
Stopper said should the department of health offices be moved to the heritage center, that it would not impact operations of the center’s food bank and food pantry which run monthly.
“The food bank stuff is really critical to the heritage center mission and we wouldn’t let anything interfere with that,” Stopper said.
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