By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

A major overhaul of the Williams Drive Behavioral Complex is officially under way but will take years to complete.

The Board of Supervisors of Del Norte County took a first step toward transforming the complex when it unanimously approved a map of the plan Tuesday.

Ben Angove, County Administrative Officer, said that the map had to be approved quickly to accommodate the McCarthy Education Center for the next school year. The Education Center is where the project will focus in 2001.

That plans are moving forward for more office space and better coordination between county and school district programs is good news for Mick Miller, Director of the County Mental Health Department.

We have completely outlived the current facility, Miller said. We just do not have room because of significantly increased demand on services.

Weve outgrown ourselves. Theres no more room at the inn.

Although details about the entire expansion and its cost are still unknown, Miller said he expects the new clinic building will run between $7 or $8 million.

Depending on the square footage, the new Mental Health building should accommodate growth over the next 20 to 30 years, Miller said. Perhaps even beyond that.

Currently no funds are included for that project in the county budget, Angove said. He estimated it will be three to five years before work begins on the building.

Today, the complex is comprised mainly of modular buildings showing varying signs of age. This has left departments detached with personnel and visitors shuttling from one building to another.

Aside from security issues, Dan Peasley, administrative service officer, said the current layout has added financial burdens.

There are extra manpower requirements for additional locations. If you have receptions and lobbies everywhere, you have to man those.

Miller said in the new buildings, offices will be designed for efficient staffing.

Currently, classrooms at the education center are doubling as therapy rooms during off- hours. These rooms were meant as classrooms, said Miller. They are not designed to be therapeutic.

Miller said he hopes the purchase of new modular buildings for the McCarthy Education Center, where the workload has doubled in the past year, will begin in the next few months.

$175,000 has already been granted for two new modular buildings for the Mental Health Department, while a single larger building for the education center is expected to total about $160,000.

It is not surprising that Miller is excited about the approval of the new development, which has combined efforts from the departments of Mental Health, Education, and Probation, along with Crescent City.

This is a classic example of what you can do when agencies collaborate, said Miller. Weve come together as one big family on behalf of our clients.