The office building at 4850 Mark Center Drive may not be known to many Alexandrians, but on Tuesday it was approved as the eventual headquarters of the city’s Health Department and Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) — and potentially a temporary hub of city administration once repairs to City Hall move forward.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the council approved purchasing the building for $58.7 million and to relocate the Health Department andn DCHS into the 10-story building.
A staff report on the purchase said it would finally bring all of the city’s Health Department and DCHS services under one roof and closer to those who use those services most.
“DCHS and Health Department operations currently occupy over 210,000 square feet in eight different locations, with leases at four facilities expiring in the near term,” staff said in the report. “In general, most of the current DCHS and Health Department space is overcrowded, outdated and does not meet modern standards for office and clinic space. In addition, the two largest leased DCHS buildings are on the eastern end of the city, while most DCHS clients now live on the western end of the city.”
Within three years, the staff report said that buying the city would become less expensive than leasing would have been, and the building was $19 million cheaper than the next closest option.
Councilwoman Redella “Del” Pepper said the site has potential but will need work to become a more accessible facility. Once the facilities start moving in, Pepper said the building will need more extensive signage to direct the public to the property.
“I have not been particularly enthusiastic about the site,” Pepper said. “I prefer to have this on a well-known street, not buried like it is here. But when I went out to the site — it’s really beautiful.”
The city has long considered moving more of the administrative services closer to the West End, where the city’s population is swelling. The topic surfaced in 2015 and prompted extensive debate in the City Council when it was suggested that more of the city’s administrative services should be moved to a building that isn’t falling apart — though there was some backlash to the notion that the current City Hall could be leased out with private-public partnerships to help foot the bill for the extensive repairs needed.
“The building can accommodate all DCHS and Health Department requirements with approximately 30,000 square feet of remaining space available for future growth and/or swing space when City Hall is renovated,” the staff report noted.
“I’m excited about this opportunity,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “Not only is this something that saves us a lot of money, it moves city services more approximate to the folks who benefit from these services… This is an opportunity for the city to provide not just the services focused for this consolidation, but other services on the West End of the city where we have not provided as much of our critical services. I think this is a great opportunity all around.”
“Do we get to call this the West End City Hall?” Chapman asked. “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that…”