The purchase of the First Lutheran Church building by the Douglas County Board last month begs the question: Why does the county need more space?

A feasibility study that looked at the space needs of the county determined that two departments have the largest need - the library and Social Services.

Board Chairman Charlie Meyer said the county itself is growing which means more people who may use county services or county programs. Some of the space needs, however, such as those for Social Services, are because of state mandates. As for the library, Meyer said that has more to do with programming needs.

Tied to mandates

Douglas County Social Services Director Laurie Bonds reiterated what Meyer said: the space needs of her office are directly tied to mandates her staff is required to provide by the state.

For example, Meyer said that the county had to hire at least three more employees for child protection services to meet state mandates.

The needs for services are expected to continue to increase, Bonds said, citing mental health and child protection as two examples. With an aging population, needs for senior services are also expected to increase significantly.

The Social Services agency includes social workers, eligibility workers, child support workers and office support. Senior services also falls under the Social Services umbrella.

"Ideally, we'd like our staff in the same building, as the work is often intertwined," said Bonds. "Hiring staff to provide services may also require the hiring of support staff."

Beside staff needs, the department has ongoing needs for storage in regard to paper files and items for children in foster care, such as car seats. Additionally, Bonds said her office provides temporary storage for client items.

"Although we implemented an electronic document management system a few years ago, which helped greatly, there is still a need for storage of archived files," she said. "Especially those such as adoption files, which need to be kept indefinitely."

Bonds also talked about the need for additional conference room space, now and in the future. Staff members use space daily for meetings both large and small, and the interview rooms are shared spaces for other agencies and community groups that are housed in the same building.

The Social Services office is also a frequent site for trainings and meetings through Interactive Television Video, which Bonds said allows her office to provide technical training for staff members so that they do not have to travel.

There is only one large conference room that can house the entire Social Services staff in the Services Center building, which also houses the Sheriff's Office, Horizon Public Health, the library, Veterans Services, Department of Motor Vehicles, Lakes Area Recreation and more. That conference room is used a site for regional trainings, as well.

More programming

Douglas County Library Director Dawn Dailey said overall circulation has increased. In 2018, more than 323,000 physical items were checked out.

The increase, she said, mainly came from novels, large print books, CDs, audiobooks, non-fiction DVDs and book club kits.

The library's electronic circulation grew to nearly 20,000 checkouts in 2018, an increase of about 2,700. The electronic circulation numbers include eBooks, downloadable audiobooks and Hoopla, which is a digital media service used by the library.

"The trend across the country has been for library circulation to hold steady or decrease, so we are ecstatic that our circulation is increasing," said Dailey.

The library offered more programs for children and adults in 2018 than in prior years, she said, and this year the library is adding even more. Weekly and monthly programs include story hours, book clubs, writers groups, performers for children, adult author visits, painting classes, card classes, book folding and more.

The programs, according to Dailey, keep library staff members busy. So does the amount of new books the library receives each week, which can be anywhere from five to 10 boxes.

"We are running out of space for all of our new materials," she said. "We have moved shelving around, added more shelving in different areas, and we still need more room. We are busting at the seams."

As for library visitors, Dailey said the library has seen an uptick in the number of regulars and new patrons who walk through the door every day. On average, that amounts to between 650-690 people daily.

About 1,000 items are checked back into the library each day, and they all need to make their way back to the appropriate location, which Dailey said is taken care of by her "amazing staff."

Dailey has noticed a higher demand for quiet spaces. The library's study rooms are in use most of the time, she said, noting that a couple more spaces would be a wonderful addition.

Currently, the library has more than 20,000 registered borrowers who are residents of Douglas County, and an additional 1,500 who are other library system patrons.

Reviewing options

As it stands now, plans have not been set in stone for the First Lutheran Church building downtown, which was purchased by the county for $425,000. The commissioners are reviewing the best options and have not decided which department or departments will eventually relocate to that building.

The county doesn't close on the sale of the building until September.

Moving the Social Services department into the church building is the most logical fit, according to the feasibility study conducted by JLG Architects in collaboration with the county commissioners, department heads and other lead staff members, and consultants from Contegrity Group and Design Tree Engineering.

The existing church building can support Social Services' immediate space needs as well as future growth for 10 and potentially 15 years, according to the study.

JLG Architects provided a rough estimate of between $4.3 million and $5.2 million to renovate the church into space for the Social Services department.

A look at the numbers

On the June 15 payroll this year, the county had 318 paid employees. This is eight more than the same period in 2016.

In 2014, there were 403 county employees, but that included employees from public health and Pope/Douglas Solid Waste Management, which were on the county's payroll at that time.

Since then, public health employees have been moved to the Horizon Public Health payroll, although they are still housed in county space at the Services Center. Pope/Douglas is now part of a Joint Powers Board with Pope County and employees are housed at a facility on Jefferson Street.