By this time next year, the Stone County Health Department expects to be in a new headquarters larger than the combined space of its two current facilities.
The department broke ground March 2 on a $3 million project in Reeds Spring that will replace the Branson West location that has been its home in the southern part of the county for the last five years. The building under construction at 701 Old Wilderness Road is near the intersection of highways 13 and 76 and will allow for expanded services throughout the county, said Pam Burnett, Health Department administrator.
Neosho-based Construction Services Group is general contractor for the 10,000-square-foot project designed by H Design Group LLC. A spring 2024 opening is planned, Burnett said. The Health Department has owned 23 acres in central Stone County since 2016 with the intent of launching the project, she said.
“It’s been a little nerve-wracking, I’m not going to lie,” she said, noting conversations about building a new headquarters started over a decade ago. “Knowing that something like this is going to be used for years to come, you want to make sure that everything is right and that the plans are good.”
Burnett said the project did not require a tax increase and is being funded out of the department’s budget. Because the agency is a political subdivision, it is separate from Stone County governance. However, she said the Stone County Commission supports the project, which also was given approval by the department’s board of trustees.
While the department currently operates in 3,000 square feet of rented space in Branson West, it first opened a satellite office roughly 20 years ago in the southern portion of the county to accommodate residents near Table Rock Lake, Burnett said. Since 1977, the health agency has owned a 4,000-square-foot building in the county seat of Galena, which has served as the headquarters.
“The one in Galena will remain open, although it will have limited hours,” she said of plans once the Reeds Spring facility opens. “The Branson West office will move into the new location.”
Opening a south county facility decades ago was a necessity to better serve residents who didn’t want to make the trek to Galena, Burnett said.
“Having those services to the north and south are important,” she said, adding it can take around 45 minutes to drive to Galena from Blue Eye, which sits on the county’s southern border.
While Stone County experienced 1.5% year-over-year growth to 31,548 residents in 2021 – the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data available – its population decreased between 2010 and 2020. The 2020 census noted the county population at 31,076, down 3.5% from a decade prior.
Burnett said the project timing was based on need and the realization that construction costs are likely to only become more expensive the longer the department waits.
The new headquarters will house four departments: environmental services, community health, clinical services and the Women, Infants and Children program. Environmental services, which conducts inspections for food service and lodging establishments, as well as testing on septic systems and recreational water, will have a state certified lab in a more centralized location convenient for all of Stone County, officials say. The current lab is only at the Galena location, which is nearly 10 miles northeast of the building currently under construction.
“The difference, first and foremost, will be to upgrade our infrastructure – to have it easily accessible where our staff can work more efficiently and effectively in a building that is on that main highway from the south and the north,” Burnett said. “It’s easy access off the highway. There’s going to be room for educational classes, for which we have no room right now.”
With the increase in exam rooms and education space, clinical services will have more appointment availability for offerings such as adult and children’s immunizations, lab draws and pregnancy testing. A drive-thru for testing and immunizations also is going to be available for confidential and convenience purposes.
Additionally, the building will feature a community room and kitchen for use by staff and the public. The roughly 1,300-square-foot space likely will be utilized for chronic disease management courses and trainings, among other options, when not reserved by community members, officials say.
The facility also will provide space for Stone County Emergency Management to house its emergency trailer and is expected to serve as an emergency operations center in the event of a disaster within the county.
Building for growth
The building project is accounting for future growth of staff and facility needs, Burnett said, noting the Health Department’s employee count is 16.
“If we needed to add on, we could. Or if we needed to do community gardens, we could,” she said, adding there’s also space to put in a walking trail. “But our first priority is to make sure we get this done.”
Burnett said excitement is the pervading feeling when she describes the ability next year to have more convenient access to services for residents while providing the Health Department with its first newly owned facility in almost 50 years.
“We’ve talked about this building for years,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s not just about the building but about the people we serve and who are benefitting from it.”
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