Work to begin on new Macon-Bibb Health Department


Liz Fabian

A new Macon-Bibb County Health Department complex is moving into the old OrthoGeorgia space at 1600 Forsyth St.

By this time next year, residents might be getting flu shots at a new Macon-Bibb County Health Department facility.

Renovations could begin late next month on the old OrthoGeorgia buildings at 1600 Forsyth St. with construction expected to be complete in fall of 2020.

“When we get started, we’ll continue to the end,” said Warren Selby Jr. of Warren Associates, the local building contractor working on the project. “We hope by late November we’ll be ready.”

Wednesday evening, Selby and architect Bob Brown updated the board of health about the progress of the project.

“I have to say my confidence level has been increased,” Macon-Bibb Commissioner Elaine Lucas, who is a board member, said after the update. “These two folks have done a lot of work for the county.”

The men explained they have held a series of meetings with subcontractors to come up with cheaper alternatives to bring original cost estimates under budget.

Although the initial announcement indicated work would begin in late spring, inspections revealed waterproofing issues that needed attention.

“One of our main concerns is the building envelope,” Selby told the board.

Although the building is structurally sound, Selby explained that the roof and walls needed to be sealed due to a lack of adequate maintenance on gutters and the synthetic stucco exterior.

“I think we have a responsibility as a board to make sure this building lasts,” board chairman David Gowan said.

For nearly $3.4 million, the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority, or UDA, purchased the three buildings totaling about 104,000 sq.ft. on two acres near Interstate 75.

Liz Fabian
Macon-Bibb County commissioners made the new health facility a SPLOST priority in 2017.

In 2017, the Macon-Bibb County Commission included a new health facility in priorities for the  Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST, funded by collecting an extra penny on the dollar from April 2018 through 2028.

In recent months, the architect and engineers have been working on mechanical drawings and the final plans to submit to the health district’s director of project development Morris Hutcheson and UDA for approval.

In the meantime, clients will still receive services at the existing building at 171 Emery Highway, which hasn’t been renovated since 1994 when the health department moved into the old shopping center once home to Kroger, Zayre and a Revco drugstore.

That mid-90s consolidation of a half-dozen offices formerly headquartered on Hemlock Street followed eight years of planning, negotiating, purchasing and remodeling.

Since 2015, the Macon-Bibb County Board of Health has planned on moving from the Emery Highway location with its maze of halls and offices that can be difficult to navigate.

Liz Fabian
When the health department moved to the old Zayre shopping plaza at 171 Emery Highway, officials boasted of having room for 11,000 parking spaces.

Prior to the 1994 opening, officials boasted the 23-acres would provide 11,000 parking spaces in the sprawling lot that now includes the Middle Georgia Regional Commission in a separate building that formerly held the old Peacock Lounge.

Currently, the health department shares its building with the River Edge Behavioral Health Center.

The board wants a contemporary space to fit the model of modern public health centers.

In addition to a telemedicine room and demonstration kitchen, the main building will house a large conference and training area, clinical operations, dental offices, administration, Women, Infants and Children, or WIC program, and a children’s play area.

A second building will hold vital records, environmental health services and a discreet space for the Teen Health Center.

The third building will be used for storage and a proposed employee wellness center.

Liz Fabian
The new Macon-Bibb County Health Department facility will consist of three buildings at 1600 Forsyth St.

There will be a drive-through window but there are some logistical challenges along the one-way street near Interstate 75.

Hutcheson has met with the Georgia Department of Transportation and Macon-Bibb County traffic engineer Nigel Floyd to explore making changes to the I-75 North exit at Forsyth Street.

Currently, motorists turning right from the interstate are not required to stop in the lane that flows directly past the entrance to the new health department building.

Engineers are currently studying ways to improve traffic flow and allow safer access to the Forsyth Street property.

“Anything will be a help,” Hutcheson said.

Road planning and eventual construction could take at least two years, he said, which means the building will likely be open before crews complete a redesigned exit.

Liz Fabian
A new Macon Transit Authority bus stop is planned directly on the health department property to prevent traffic from stopping on Forsyth Street.

To make the building more accessible, the Macon Transit Authority also intends to make a bus stop in the department’s parking lot.

Hutcheson will set the schedule for the building’s opening once the renovations are complete.

Information from The Telegraph archives contributed to this report. 

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at [email protected] or phone 478-301-2976.