The Portland City Council next week is expected to vote on whether to consolidate the city’s social services and public health divisions in one building on Forest Avenue.

If the relocation of the divisions from four locations across the city to a 37,000-square-foot building at 39 Forest Ave. is approved May 17, the city would enter into a 20-year lease with property owner 39 LLC beginning June 1. The city would be charged $277,500 a year, or $23,125 rent per month, for the space. The rent would increase by 1% and cap out at $335,250 in 2040-2041, the last year of the lease.

“Leasing space at 39 Forest will provide a centralized, on -peninsula location,” Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said in an April 29 memo to councilors. “The benefits of co­-location include improved staff collaboration, reduced barriers to those who require vital services, enhanced organization efficiency and the ability to expand programs as needed.”

The India Street Public Health Center and the General Assistance office would be among the programs relocated to the centralized site, located between Congress Street and Cumberland Avenue.

Councilors have backed the idea, but Maine College of Art, which is planning a 180-bed dormitory next door at 45 Forest Ave., told the Portland Press Herald it was concerned about the new offices’ impact on the dorm project.

Portland Stage Company Executive and Artistic Director Anita Stewart told the Press Herald she is also concerned about safety, especially for the children who participate in youth programming and the senior citizens who often attend nighttime performances. Stewart said the theater is only about 20 feet away from the proposed location. She was concerned about safety issues that might arise when the city offices are closed and with the needle exchange, which is currently located on India Street.

The goal, if the plan moves forward, would be to start renovations next month in time for General Assistance to move into the building by July 1. Additional Health and Human Services staff would move to the new space in July and renovations for the public health clinic spaces in the building would take place through October 2021, with the clinic moving in November.

The new space, the city said, would be an improvement over the spaces it currently leases at 103 India St. and 196 Lancaster St., which Mitchell said “have become increasingly cramped in tired space over the years, with numerous facility issues including plumbing, electrical and poor ventilation.”

Clinic operations at the India Street Public Health Center, for example, were closed for 10 days last November due to a water main break, and a 12-hour power outage, also in November, put into jeopardy the center’s cold storage vaccines.

The layout of the Lancaster Street facility is confusing for clients, according to an April 9 memorandum to the City Council’s Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee, and the ventilation in the building is so poor that the temperatures in some offices are in the 50s while others are in the 90s. The space has also had plumbing and electrical issues.

Rent at India and Lancaster streets and space on the peninsula for prevention and diversion cost the city $280,176 annually.

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