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Cost of Health Department building is rising

Site identified, but proposed move to centralized location could exceed allocated $15.1 million.

First Published Jun 07 2012 08:35 pm • Last Updated Sep 11 2012 11:32 pm

The Salt Lake Valley Health Department has identified property at 7800 S. 1300 West as its preferred site for a new administration building.

But there is a problem. The $15.1 million allocated for the project last December by the Salt Lake County Council is insufficient — maybe up to $10 million short of covering the costs of buying the land and erecting a new structure.

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In addition, the 80-acre site includes two parcels of land. The owner of one parcel has another offer on it. So if the county wants that piece, which is vital to having adequate parking, it will have to move quickly.

But moving quickly is troublesome for council members, particularly with the project’s final tab up in the air. So the council has scheduled time at next Tuesday’s work meeting for a closed-door discussion of the issue.

"I have some questions about the land sale that should be done in closed session," said Republican Councilman Michael Jensen. "We’ve talked more about it [in open session] more than we should have."

Health Department Director Gary Edwards said the envisioned building is the centerpiece of a five-year plan to redesign the delivery of public health services in the Salt Lake Valley.

It would replace a 47-year-old building at 610 S. 200 East that Edwards said is riddled with problems: asbestos throughout the structure, inadequate heating and air conditioning systems, a boiler beyond further repair and unacceptably expensive remodeling requirements to comply with seismic, energy-conservation and Americans with Disabilities Act laws.

The existing location does have one asset. Salt Lake City owns the underlying land and charges the county only $1 a year to lease it. "It’s been a bargain," Edwards said.

Health Department officials had hoped to hold down acquisition costs through the use of "new market tax credits," a federal program designed to revitalize low-income areas.

But the desired location does not qualify for those credits, Edwards said.

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Still, he added, its location is ideally suited to help the Health Department deal with the valley’s population shifts to the west and south.

The site also has good access to TRAX and bus lines running along 1300 West, he noted.

But the rising price tag was clearly a concern for council members, who have been struggling for four years to keep Salt Lake County’s budget balanced through the onslaught of the Great Recession.

"Is there any way we can build it smaller to begin with and then add on when we’re in a better [financial] position?" questioned County Council Chairman David Wilde.

That’s one option council members are likely to consider in their closed session.

mikeg@sltrib.comTwitter: @sltribmikeg

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