County moving jobs center
Mesa County boasts one of the most comprehensive workforce centers in the state — a soup-to-nuts operation for job seekers and employer-support efforts that brings together more than 17 partner programs into one unit.
Up to now, all of these resources have been shoehorned into an aging and cramped facility on 29 Road since the operation was created in 1998.
But because of a new capital project planned by the county, they’re now set for a serious upgrade.
Mesa County recently decided on an architect for its new Workforce Center, and the ball is rolling on designing the new $7.5 million, 32,000 square-foot facility at 512 29 1/2 Road — immediately north of where the county’s Community Services Building now stands.
“We wanted to go back to the drawing board with this project,” county spokeswoman Jessica Peterson said. “The Workforce Center is a huge priority for us, especially now,” she said.
Hilltop Community Services, which owns the current location at 2897 North Ave., is expected to explore other options for the property, which is pushing the timeline for the new facility. The site has become part of an increasingly valuable commercial corridor since last fall’s completion of the 29 Road overpass.
Space for big events
“(Hilltop) has been a great partner to us for all of these years, and they leased to us at a very, very good rate,” said Sue Tuffin, the Workforce Center’s director since its creation in 1998.
Tuffin is excited about the plans for a new facility and is already envisioning ways to better serve not only job seekers, but the employers who come to the center for workshops and workforce trainings.
“We’re very excited because it offers us an opportunity to just grow our service delivery,” she said. “We have not been able to offer the level or quality of services to the business community that we’d like to be able to, for example.”
Tuffin recalled a recent event held when American Furniture Warehouse opened its new local store, “and we had people wound clear around the building. We just don’t have space.”
That won’t be an issue in the new building. Expanded space for a comprehensive business center is one of the major improvements that Tuffin cited. She envisions a highly flexible meeting room space, with movable partitions similar to a convention center, to accommodate big events as well as more intimate meetings. Other county agencies also will have access to the meeting space, she said.
And classrooms that now are housed in modular units in and around the current facility will be designed into the new facility. The Workforce Center conducts GED classes, as well as trainings in Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid, and other business-related subjects.
Focus on technology
One of the key tasks the center performs is job-seeker assessment, so that matches with employers are accurate. The new facility also will have an improved assessment lab, at least in terms of space.
Technology also is an essential focus of the new building’s planned design. There will still be an extensive resource room and computer lab for job seekers — with a phone bank and Internet access for looking at online job ads — and Tuffin expects WiFi access throughout.
In the Workforce Center’s current building, “sometimes your cellphone works, and sometimes it doesn’t,” she said.
Advanced video conferencing equipment also is anticipated for the new facility, something sure to save the county money. Tuffin said she and other employees currently travel to Denver “all the time” — often two or three times a month — so the ability to meet over an Internet connection is something they’re looking forward to.
So why start a pricey project now, when revenue for new projects is scarce?
County officials point out that the money for the Workforce Center project will come out of the county’s capital improvement fund. Voters in 1981 approved a measure to set aside half of the county’s 2-percent sales tax to fund strictly capital investment projects.
And, with the down economy, construction costs are relatively low, making the idea of pursuing a large-scale construction project more appealing to the county.