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Center of convenience

| Friday, Nov. 21, 2003

Convenience for residents rather than need for space is the main reason Butler County commissioners plan to buy nearly $2.6 million in office space from the county's chief clerk, an official says.

The county's mental health and mental retardation office will be housed on one floor and the nonprofit Center for Community Resources on another in the three-story structure to be built in Pullman Business Park. The two agencies will lease nearly 21,000 square feet of space from the county for about $185,000 annually.

Chief Clerk William O'Donnell will pay nearly $4 million to construct the building, and will own the bottom floor. Work on the building to be called Standard Center could begin before the end of the year and be finished 10 to 12 months later, O'Donnell said.

While space is cramped for the mental health and retardation unit in its current office at the county government center on West Diamond Street, centralizing human services agencies was the driving force behind the deal, said Carmine Scotece, county director of human services.

County welfare and employment and vocational training offices all are located in Pullman Business Park, an office complex near the Pullman Shopping Center in the southwest section of the city of Butler.

Officials considered several sites, including three in Pullman Business Park.

"This was the last piece of property that would fit our needs," Scotece said. "If we didn't get (O'Donnell's property), relocating to Pullman Business Park was off the table."

The juvenile probation office could move into the current mental health and mental retardation office, but plans still aren't clear, O'Donnell said.

The number of clients at the mental health and mental retardation office has doubled in 10 years, Scotece said.

The mental health and retardation office leases its current space from the county for $80,000 annually. Community Resources pays about $40,000 annually for office space along West Cunningham Street and in the county's Sunnyview Complex.

Community Resources is a non-profit agency created in 2002 by the county to help steer people to the county's various human services agencies.

O'Donnell bought the 1.6-acre Pullman site in 1998 for $90,000 from Community Development Corporation of Butler County.

O'Donnell has said he's been told by the state Ethics Commission his deal with the county is legal so long as he doesn't use his position to obtain confidential information or to seek financial gain.

Paid $78,449 annually, O'Donnell was appointed chief clerk by county commissioners in 1992, the same year commissioners Chairman Glenn Anderson took office. Commissioner James Kennedy has been in office since 1996 and Scott Lowe since last year.

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