By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
GREEN VALLEY —
Holes dug into the vacant lot’s soil were part of the ceremonial first step Thursday toward creating a new Mercer County Health Department building.
Local dignitaries and members of the health department’s staff met at the old health department’s Green Valley location to celebrate the start on a new structure. Now that the old building is gone and the funding is in place, work can begin on the new health center.
“This has been a long-awaited event for us,” County Commissioner Mike Vinciguerra said. “We’ll be tickled to death when 330 days pass and we have a new building to move into.”
The forecasted completion date is early October 2013. When completed, the new building will have 11,545 square feet of space. The former building had 22,640 square feet; however, much of this space was not used, County Health Officer Dr. Kathy Wides said. A new building will not have drawbacks such as poor insulation and humidity problems.
“It’s going to be clean and dry and effective,” Wides said after the ceremony. “No mold, no mushrooms on the wall. It will be welcoming to the community.”
Health Department Administrator Melody Rickman, RN, described all the work and public support that went into finding the money needed for a new building.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed with gladness in my heart. People say it was a three-year process, but for us it was a five -year process. From day one, this was not a partisan thing. We had help from Republicans, Democrats, and independents. Nobody closed a door in our face.”
The late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. helped secure $3.9 million of federal funding for the project, Vinciguerra said. U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. helped get another $254,430. Local support also went a long way toward moving the construction forward.
“John Shott and the Shott Foundation were extremely important when this project was in the first stages. The health department and the staff is extremely grateful to Shott and the support he gave from day one,” Rickman said later.
Rickman took the opportunity during the groundbreaking ceremony to announce that she plans to retire Dec. 31. Susan Kadar, a sanitarian with 30 years of public health experience, will become the new administrator on Jan. 1, 2013.
“I’ve had a wonderful journey with public health, but I think God has a new journey for me,” Rickman said later. She kept a stone dug up during the groundbreaking and a pair of bricks from the old health department as mementos.
Timm Boggess, chairman of the health department’s board of directors, credited Rickman for the project’s progress.
“Melody Rickman never lost faith in the building,” he said. “If not for her, I don’t think we would have gotten to this point today. She would not let people say no. She’s an important, vital part of this.”
Lisa Miller of the Region I Planning and Development Council read a letter from Rahall, who was unable to attend Thursday. In his letter, Rahall congratulated everyone involved with the project and assured them that he will continue supporting new projects in Mercer County.
“Now let’s put those federal dollars to work and let the dirt fly,” Rahall said.
Rickman then read a letter from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
“The Mercer County Health Department serves to provide this region with the best possible health care and provide the residents with the peace of mind that great medical care will be available and close to home,” Manchin said in his letter. “Please never doubt the service that you provide to this region and all West Virginians.”΅