County Plans for New Agency on Aging Building

Two-story building on county’s south campus would house AOA, maintenance and dental clinic

By Molly Priddy

 Flathead County intends to build a new center for its Agency on Aging program, including it in plans for a new $6 million building on the county’s south campus.

Last week, the Flathead County Commission authorized the county to publish a request for proposals for architectural services for the preliminary architectural report on the project, which is slated in the county’s capital improvement plan to start in fiscal year 2015.

It’s a major shift from this time a year ago, when emotions in the senior citizen community were still simmering after the county commission voted to halt the grant process for a new AOA building.

The AOA serves area residents 60 years and older with a variety of programs, including Meals on Wheels, transportation, senior home repair and legal services, among others. AOA also has six congregate meal sites, allowing seniors who are not homebound to break bread together.

In 2013, the commission held several meetings about the AOA facilities, which are currently located in a red barn building on Kelly Road. Lisa Sheppard, director of the AOA, said there were many ways the building didn’t fit the program’s needs, such as safety and spacing issues.

The commissioners gave permission to fund an architectural review of several potential building sites in 2013, and approved starting the application process for a $450,000 Community Development Block Grant to help pay for a new space.

Several potential building sites were considered, including one on the county’s south campus, before the CDBG process was halted all together.

Now, the members of the senior community who use the AOA services can look forward to more space and amenities with the proposed new building, Sheppard said in a June 30 interview.

“We’re actually really excited about it,” she said.

According to the county’s capital improvement plan, the new building is expected to have two stories, and will house AOA, a dental clinic for the Flathead City-County Health Department, and the county maintenance department.

It will be very similar in structure to the existing Earl Bennett Building, and will include a sky bridge linking it to the Earl Bennett from the south campus.

It will be built on six city blocks and include considerable parking.

Sheppard said this project is completely different in scope and structure than the building proposed for this same area in 2013. The 2013 plan had a lot of logistical issues, such as parking, she said, but this current project isn’t even related to the previously proposed one.

“It’s an entirely different plan, with an entirely different footprint,” Sheppard said.

The county’s capital improvement plan allocated $3 million for the new building in fiscal year 2015, and another $3 million in fiscal year 2016.

Sheppard said that while the new building project is still young and there aren’t any “concrete plans” for it yet, she has been working with the county commission on the AOA needs and believes the new building will answer those needs.

“There’s a lot of attention being paid to functionality for our agency,” she said. “I’m thrilled and I think there’s a real focus on what we need in order to provide high-quality service.”

The AOA will use the ground floor of the building, she said, and there will be space for the kitchen, dining room and community areas, all with a focus on accessibility and the needs of the older population.

And by housing the health department’s dental clinic on the second floor, the building will be able to meet even more needs for the AOA population while also giving them a nice place to wait for their appointments, she said.

Sheppard said she believes there is a solid level of teamwork between AOA and commission on this project, and thinks the new facilities will ensure the Flathead’s aging population will continue receiving quality care and service.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” she said.

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