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State wants to keep DHHR downtown

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

CLARKSBURG -- The state wants to keep Harrison County's Department of Health and Human Resources in downtown Clarksburg -- if the right site can be found.

Health Secretary Paul Nusbaum sent a letter to Clarksburg officials Friday saying he also welcomes their input in selecting the site for a new government complex that will include DHHR and other unnamed state offices. He said the former Anchor Hocking site suggestion is already appreciated.

Jim Hunt, Clarksburg city councilman, called the announcement excellent news and said city officials are committed to working cooperatively with the department.

Nusbaum said there is a qualification to the partnership, however.

"It is my preference, it is the governor's preference, it is the department's preference that the site be in the downtown -- if it can be built there in a suitable and cost-effective way."

The department's site criteria include:

n Enough land for a 25,000 to 30,000 square foot building.

n 150-200 parking spaces on site.

n Bus line access.

n A building construction cost less than $12 per square foot, or, a compelling reason if costs are higher.

The department will consider both constructing the site itself and leasing such a site from a private developer, he added. The former option was used for the Clarksburg Federal Center, which the U.S. government leases from Petroplus and Associates Inc. of Morgantown.

Nusbaum said the state will locate the complex elsewhere in the county, possibly in a shopping area such as Eastpointe, if department needs cannot be met downtown.

Sen. Joe Minard, D-Harrison, said other location options will not be necessary, although he had not yet seen Nusbaum's letter to the city.

"The city has the wherewithal to make this happen," Minard said. "I think the city can accommodate whatever their needs are."

Councilman Hunt said the city has no choice but to work within department parameters.

"That's our future," Hunt said. "If you can't get behind this you better just close up shop."

DHHR's move became a contentious issue earlier this month when area politicians claimed the office's relocation from the downtown would be damaging to the city's future.

City Manager Tom Vidovich said the office is needed as part of a web of downtown draws.

"We need a multiplicity of destinations downtown so that, in combination, they can help rejuvenate the downtown," Vidovich said.

State officials plan to move the department to a temporary headquarters later this summer and into the new office complex about 18 months after that.

Nusbaum said he will announce the temporary site late next week.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.

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