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New Health Department HQ Delayed

Apparently, there’s some unhappy financial stuff going down lately – you might be aware of it if you read the paper or listen to radio news. (Some of us at Hair Balls prefer early-’70s

Oui

magazines and Cheap Trick.) To help prevent Houston from getting sucked into this new economic abyss, Mayor White announced yesterday

a plan

to tighten up fiscally, including limiting the city’s debt.

That’s bad news for the Department of Health and Human Services – the downturn means the construction of its new central facility may be put on hold. White cited the project as a specific example of an undertaking that might have to be delayed or scaled back given the economic climate.

The new building will likely be located on South Main close to where AstroWorld used to stand and will replace the current facilities near Old Spanish Trail and Kirby. City of Houston General Services real estate director Bill Christy tells Hair Balls the total cost estimate is between $70 and $130 million.

The land for the building hasn’t been acquired yet, though the City Council approved a few weeks ago a “good faith” effort to purchase some property, Kathy Barton, a spokeswoman for the DHHS, says. There’s currently no timetable for breaking ground on the project.

From what Barton says, it sounds like the new office space and labs are sorely needed.

“We are in an undersized building now – the main building. And then we have Environmental Services in another building, and it’s undersized and falling apart. They wanted to consolidate all of those services into one building. [Right now] it’s just a little tight, and we aren’t able to add any new programs or expand any of our existing programs,” Barton tells Hair Balls.

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Some programs, like the DHHS offender re-entry program, are currently operating out of multi-service centers that serve individual neighborhoods.

“The advantage for us to put all of our people in one place would be general efficiency of the operation…[but] we appreciate the circumstances that the city finds itself in, and the country finds itself in,” Barton says.

Christy tells Hair Balls that progress on the project and others like it will largely depend on what the economy does. Just another example of how Wall Street has screwed (South) Main Street. Thanks, fat cats!

Blake Whitaker

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