Return to story
Above is a rendering of what the King George help center facility would look like.
By CATHY DYSON
A proposed state-of-the art center where low-income residents in King George County would get a raft of services under one roof is being discussed again publicly, after more than 18 months of negotiations.
"We had some paperwork we had to get straight," said Cedell Brooks Jr., chairman of the King George Board of Supervisors.
Brooks was talking about the performance agreement between the county and Project FAITH, a nonprofit group headed by Fronce Wardlaw.
She has agreed to the county's terms, and the county is considering giving her 5.5 acres in the Government Center, off State Route 3, for the project.
The next step is to gather public comments during a hearing, set for 6:45 p.m. Tuesday in the boardroom of the Revercomb Administration Center.
Wardlaw wants to build a new complex, called the HELP Center, that would include offices for health and social services, a free clinic, community college classes and a commercial kitchen serving free meals, all under one roof.
The 42,000-square-foot center would cost up to $9 million. Wardlaw has offered to build and maintain it at no cost to the county.
Even though supervisors endorsed the idea more than three years ago--Brooks called it "one of the greatest things that ever happened in this region"--the project hasn't moved forward since October 2010.
That's when King George officials agreed to give the land if the county and Wardlaw signed off on a performance agreement.
With past projects, Wardlaw, who has brought $20 million worth of low-income housing into the county, has created entities through which grants, low-interest loans and tax credits were funneled.
She planned to do the same with the HELP Center, but county officials balked at giving county-owned land to a for-profit agency.
So Project FAITH, which is a nonprofit, agreed to be the agency that will handle the grants and loans.
"We've spent the last year making sure measures were taken to protect King George County and to address the concerns of development of the center," Wardlaw said. "I'm very pleased with what the county's done, and I'm very happy with what we've done."
But issues remain.
Last month, Supervisor Joe Grzeika stressed that the HELP Center is to be used for nonprofit groups only.
"You can't have any commercial activities going on here," he said. "I'm not sure I support this, but I'll let it go to the public hearing."
In drawing up the agreement, County Attorney Matt Britton couldn't list everything that is not allowed, so he tried to list what is allowed, Grzeika said.
Agencies and amenities listed are: social services, child protective services, health services, the Cooperative Extension office, community college, Goodwill Industries, the free clinic, a commercial kitchen, state probation and parole prison re-entry programs, Project FAITH and a multipurpose room.
There have been rumblings that the HELP Center would take away business from current landlords, who rent to the various agencies that would be housed in the new complex, said Anita Churchill, president of the King George Chamber of Commerce.
"I think we just need to take our time and look at the complete picture before a decision is made," she said this week.
But the county already had plans to build some sort of complex, in the Government Center, for agencies such as the Department of Social Services and the Health Department, Brooks said.
Workers in those buildings have said for years that their space is outdated and too small. Agencies have been making plans to move elsewhere, either into a county-owned facility or the new center built by Project FAITH, Supervisor Ruby Brabo told those gathered at her town-hall meeting on March 29.
"Either way, businesses are not going to be relocating to other commercial facilities here in King George," she said.
Brabo added how much Project FAITH has brought to the community. "I feel that Fronce Wardlaw truly is a visionary," she said.
Brooks said he's looking forward to hearing public opinion about the HELP Center at Tuesday's hearing. Supervisors probably won't vote on the issue that night, he said.
The performance agreement includes a fairly tight construction schedule--and makes it clear the property will go back to the county if Project FAITH fails to meet any of the terms.
The agreement calls for construction to begin by Feb. 28, 2013, and for the building with fountains, angels and covered walkways to be finished by Aug. 1, 2014.
To meet that schedule, and to start processing the paperwork needed for the various grants, Wardlaw said she'd like to begin work in earnest by May 1.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425