Monday is moving day for Columbia County’s Health and Human Services Department, as it relocates from 2652 Murphy Road in Portage’s industrial park to the new HHS Building, 111 E. Mullett St., on the southeast side of the Portage Canal.

Here’s what you need to know about the move.

Will HHS employees continue to work out of the Murphy Road location while Monday’s move is going on?

No. Starting Monday, all Health and Human Services offices will operate from the new building – although, said HHS Director Dawn Woodard, it’s likely the phones won’t be hooked up right away. Hours remain the same: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

What if I have an emergency and can’t reach my caseworker by phone?

You may contact the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center at 608-742-4166, and the dispatchers will get in touch with HHS workers.

Will I be able to get to the HHS building from the Administration Building using the enclosed walking bridge?

No. According to County Board Chairman Vern Gove of Portage, the enclosed bridge leads from the first floor of the Admin Building, 112 E. Edgewater St., into a secure area on the second floor of the HHS Building, accessible only by electronic key cards issued to certain county employees. The public may, however, park at the Admin Building and use the outdoor foot bridge across the canal to get to the HHS Building. Or, there also is public parking in a lot on East Mullett Street, and there are a limited number of on-street spaces.

Where do I go into the new HHS building?

Use the doors on East Mullett Street. The main door, near the parking lot, is where most HHS clients will enter. There’s a separate door for the Aging and Disability Resource Center, slightly to the southwest. Do not use the doors on the building’s west side, which lead to the ADRC’s large meeting room.

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How will I know where to go inside the new building?

Check in at the front desk of the HHS Building (or the ADRC), and someone will guide you. Don’t try to find the offices, or climb the stairs to the second floor, unescorted. Many of the HHS offices where confidentiality is of the essence – offices like the Division of Children and Families and Behavioral Health – are located on the second floor.

What are those metal birds on display on the building’s main floor?

They are nearly life-size renderings of blue herons – two of them in flight, suspended from the ceiling, and a third in a recessed wall. Artist Don Schmidt created them as the principal art for the HHS building.

Will the Portage senior meal site move to the new building right away?

Becky Mulhern, director of the Aging and Disability Resource Center, said the meal site will remain in the lower level of the Portage Municipal Building, 115 W. Pleasant St., until September, when the meal site will be relocated to the large room built for that purpose at the ADRC. A grand opening will be held.

When can I see the inside of the new HHS building?

Much of the building is not generally open to the public, due to the highly confidential nature of much of the department’s work. That was one of the key problems with the HHS Building on Murphy Road, a former light-industrial structure – not enough space, and open or curtained cubicles for caseworkers, which made it a challenge to maintain confidentiality. The new building will have offices with doors that close.

However, when Columbia County holds its celebration of the completion of the $46 million building project, starting at noon, Aug. 18, many areas of the HHS building not normally accessible by the public will be displayed. Employees also are expected to be on hand to answer questions and offer information about the various services offered at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Follow Lyn Jerde on Twitter @LynJerde


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