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County breaks ground on new health unit

Thursday, June 13, 2002

The groundbreaking ceremony scheduled in April for the Fulton County Health Unit finally became a reality June 6 in Salem after the first scheduled ceremony was postponed due to a family emergency of Gwen Godwin, group leader of the Fulton County Health Unit. Godwin was instrumental overseeing the project and there was no way the county was hosting the event without her, said Fulton County Judge Curren Everett.

To date Fulton County officials and those spearheading the project have conducted a soil suitability survey, the appraisal has been completed, the architect has been hired, and the initial project plans have been approved.

The present health unit has outgrown its facility, but with the help of grant money the county will soon realize a long- awaited dream of a larger facility with 4,500 square feet on Highway 9 South at Airport Road.

The Arkansas State Board of Health recently approved a $360,000 grant to help construct the new facility. And the Salem Industrial Development Corporation donated about two acres for this project. The state will handle taking care of the bids.

Funding for this project is possible thanks to the passage of Act 749 during the 1989 legislative session. The Health Department is now able to transfer unobligated building bond funds to the State Health Building and Local Grant Trust Fund.

Godwin said due to state budget cuts no projects were funded for 2002. She said when the county applied again in 2001 she was aware this would probably be the last shot Fulton County would have to get the necessary funding. "This was quite a feat," she said.

Everett said the new facility will include four exam rooms, one laboratory room, a conference room and six offices, with room for expansion.

Since funding has been cut across Arkansas, Everett said the county is fortunate to receive a grant for a project that will benefit so many. The caseload has grown tremendously at the present health facility, but with the new building the health department will be able to serve more clients.

To get the project off the ground the county was required to commit to maintain and operate the building, provide the land to house the facility and provide the parking lot. The county was further required to commit to a 10-percent match that can be met in labor, Godwin explained.

One of the qualifications for the county to get approved for funding was by outgrowing the present facility. Godwin said the public made it happen by making use of the services the health facility offers, including mammograms, HIV testing, immunizations and the WIC program.

Godwin has worked nine years at the Fulton County Health Unit, serving as the group leader in charge of Fulton Sharp, Izard and Stone counties.

It took five years on this project just to be placed on the evaluation list, she said. An average of two to four projects a year receive funding. A project of this size required a joint effort by many officials, she added.

Bob Beavers of Forrest City, who was named architect for the new facility, was also present at the ceremony. Beavers has 40 years of field supervision experience and has served as principal in charge for 10 health departments, six senior centers and numerous medical clinics. He was the project architect for Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller's mountaintop farm.

Beavers has completed over 250 projects during his career, and Godwin said he is committed to doing his utmost to please the citizens of Fulton County.

Beavers said one of the biggest problems is staying within the budget. "I get a real sense of accomplishment handling these projects," he said. His goal is to make the facility comfortable for the patients and not to have a cold, sterile atmosphere.

Godwin said the goal is to hire contractors in the tri-county area to support the local economy.

Mayor Gary Clayton said, "We're happy to have this health facility and are looking forward to have it completed."

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