The Board of Carroll County Commissioners has decided to sell the troubled Wheeler Building, leaving the Access Carroll clinic to explore a new option for its community health services for low-income residents and the uninsured.
Access Carroll, a nonprofit health clinic in Westminster, is now considering a home in the Distillery Building at 10 Distillery Drive after learning that the board plans to sell the Wheeler Building.
In 2009, Access Carroll signed a 25-year lease with the county to occupy the Wheeler Building at 112 Railroad Ave. in Westminster. But in February, a newly elected board decided to reconsider the plan in an effort to reduce the county’s long-term debt.
“We are now looking at moving our operations to the Distillery Building,” said Access Carroll Executive Director Tammy Black. There are pros and cons to both sites, but it at least appears as though, without having done a walk-through yet, that the square footage might be comparable, so that’s a good thing.”
But Plan B does come with some potential complications. There are concerns that some of Access Carroll’s grant funding, raised specifically for renovations to the Wheeler Building, may be in jeopardy.
“The big thing is now our timeline is drastically off, which impacts the schedule of funding and assurances to the different granters that are involved in this process,” said Black. “The granters so far have been very gracious in allowing us to transfer that money to other entities within this service area with the understanding that we stay true to our original expansion goals.”
According to Black, the Distillery Drive location will also require significant renovation. She said that the second floor, where their offices would be located, would have to be essentially gutted and rebuilt. But Black said that the staff and board of directors intend to move forward quickly.
“The board (of Access Carroll) is very aggressive, we want to move forward and keep communications open between everyone. We just have too many patients that are desperately needing our services and the longer we delay this process the longer the services can’t be obtained and also the greater the risk of losing support and the funding we have already secured,” Black said.
Doug Howard, R-District 5, president of the board of commissioners, said he and his fellow board members inherited a lot of problems with the Wheeler Building.
“Access Carroll got caught in a really difficult situation,” Howard said. “Even during the election we were concerned about that building. The Wheeler building wasn’t a good purchase and I, well we, had no idea that they (previous commissioners) had made a long-term commitment to Access Carroll.”
The Wheeler Building has been a source of controversy for several years. According to a May, 2010 article in the Carroll County Times, the county purchased it for nearly $2 million in February 2008 in hopes that it would become the headquarters for a new county police force. However, the building has been vacant since, and a decision to create a county police force was just decided this year.
Black said that she is somewhat relieved that, after four months of waiting to hear about the future of her organization, she now has some direction.
“I would like to be in the building by the end of this year,” she said. “I know that’s really optimistic, but I know that a lot of people are very interested in making this project move quickly. People want to see this happen and I believe it will.
“When this is all said and done, everyone is going to say this is a model community center, people will look at it and say, ‘This is what we want in our community.’”
Howard said the board recognizes the importance of the work at Access Carroll and is committed to making sure the organization gets into a facility that meets its needs.
“At this time we want to make sure it (Distillery Drive location) meets the needs of Access Carroll and that the grants apply. If she (Tammy Black) comes back and tells us that it doesn’t work, then we’ll go from there,” Howard said. “Tammy has done a phenomenal job in building this organization and we want to do what we can to support the work they will continue to do.”
Black said that so far Access Carroll has raised $1.3 million of $1.6 million for the renovation project. She said that the granters will require a new sketch of the floor plan, a revised timeline and the assurance that the funding from the other funders is still intact, because they are matching grants.
“We’re going to make sure we’re communicating our optimism, our proactive attitude, and we’re going to be communicating plans as they unfold,” Black said. “We’re going to make sure the community knows we’re moving forward and that their investment and support is going to be carried through in this project."