New Health Department facility celebrates with ribbon cutting

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By Lance Coleman
Blount Today

Folks won’t be able to check out books, but they will be able to get check ups.

A crowd packed the Blount County Health Department on Monday, April 23. The guests were there to watch the ribbon cutting and check out the new look for a building that for years housed the Blount County Public Library.

"It’s very impressive what they’ve done with the natural lighting," County Mayor Jerry Cunningham said. "Those who saw it used as a library are pleased with what we see today."

Cunningham said converting the former library building into a new health department was the best use of the building. "It’s a beautiful facility," he said.

The mayor said the county is blessed with wonderful community treasures. "The person I’m about to introduce is a community treasure," said Cunningham, as he introduced Micky Roberts, director of the Blount County Health Department. "He has worked diligently. It’s just a pleasure to work with him. He’s a friend and a wonderful Blount County citizen."

Roberts said his job that morning was to say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you, and you’re welcome." The health department director also praised the work of the Public Building Authority and Merritt Construction for their work in managing the project.

Roberts said it was a conversation with assistant county mayor Dave Bennett that got him to thinking about converting the former Blount County Public Library building into a health department.

The history of the department began in 1919 when the Blount County department became the first one created in the state. "It started because the county court clerk paid a nurse $600 for standardization of latrines," said Roberts.

In 1977, the health department moved into their former building on East Lamar Alexander Parkway, behind the Thompson-Brown House. It had 10,000 square feet of space.

The new facility has 29,000 square feet of space. The county paid $2 million and the state paid $1 million to remodel the facility to create two floors where previously there was only one main floor. The state gave the $1million to build the primary care clinic portion of the facility, Roberts said.

Dr. Paul Erwin with the Tennessee Department of Health said he took particular pride in the new facility. "Blount County is my home, where my family lives, works and goes to school," he said.

Erwin said a community is measured by the institutions it supports. "This says a great deal about who we are and what we think about our community," he said.

State Commissioner of Health Susan R. Cooper brought greetings from Gov. Phil Bredesen and said she was impressed with the new facility. "I walked in the front doors and said, ‘Wow!’ You walk into a building, and you get a sense of the
community. I can see what the citizens of Blount County have. It’s a treasure," she said. "This is a real model of how a
community can come together to serve the citizens better."

Cooper said 130 people are scheduled come to the health department each day. Much of what the health department does is promoting public health and improving public health, she said.

PBA director Ron Ogle said they gave the health department more workspace than they had previously and saved money by not building a new structure. "We added another 9,000 square feet by adding the second floor," he said. "If the county
tried to build a new facility, it would have cost $4 million."

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