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Courthouse expansion put on hold

Boone County Commissioners on Monday decided to put the current courthouse expansion plans on hold due to possible future changes in staffing and space requirements for Social Services offices administered by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

County Board Chairman Hank Thieman said he was notified last week by a Social Services official of future changes in the agency that would include staff reductions and the likely closing of the Boone County office by 2010.

The commissioners then held a lengthy discussion with one of their architects, Brad Kissler of Cannon Moss Brygger & Associates, about downsizing the building addition and possibly relocating the courtroom to the west end of the existing courthouse.

Measurements were taken of the space available at the west end of the building, and Kissler began making some preliminary sketches to revise the plans.

However, the information about future closing of Social Services offices later proved inaccurate.

When contacted Monday afternoon, Kathie Osterman, DHHS administrator, said there is a plan in place that includes statewide call centers to serve Social Services clients. Also, DHHS currently offers a web site called ACCESSNebraska, which allows clients to apply for benefits online. However, there has been no discussion as yet about replacing or closing Social Services offices with these services.

“The information (about closing Social Service offices) is inaccurate,” said Osterman. According to the DHHS plan, Osterman said the agency will decide in mid-2009 about locations for its call centers. Some of these call centers should be operational by 2010, and the plan will be fully operational by 2012. This may affect some of the existing Social Services offices with staff reductions, Osterman said, but no decisions have been made regarding the closure of offices.

Thieman also contacted DHHS after Monday’s meeting, and he was informed that the agency wants to keep all of its existing space in the Boone County Courthouse.

With this clarification, Thieman said, the county board will definitely bring the building project back for discussion at its next meeting on Nov. 10.