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Community breaks ground at future DFCS home site
web 0720 DFCS groundbreaking
Local dignitaries and community members turn the dirt Tuesday on the future site of the Liberty County Department of Family and Children Services on East Oglethorpe Highway. - photo by Danielle Hipps

Local city, county and state representatives reflected on the power of perseverance when they gathered Tuesday for the groundbreaking of the Liberty County Department of Family and Children Services.

“It’s been many long years in the making, and it’s taken a whole lot of folks to make this possible,” County Administrator Joey Brown said as he welcomed more than 50 guests. “As Winston Churchill said, ‘Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm,’ and that’s something that we did not lose in this project, because we kept plugging ahead.”

Liberty County administrators have wanted to build a facility for the department since 2002, and many representatives revved up their efforts about four years ago, Brown said. The facility’s future home is where the old Liberty Memorial Hospital was on Oglethorpe Highway.

After Brown’s introduction, Pastor Hermon Scott gave an invocation seeking blessings on the land and the department’s operations before the ceremony’s seven speakers took to the podium to share their thoughts on the project.

John McIver, chairman of the Liberty County Commission, spoke about the project’s “hills and valleys” and expressed need for the facility.

Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, commended the city and county for their ability to work together on the project.

“It would be nice if we didn’t need this building; it’d be nice if every kid had two parents at home and they’d raise their kids as they should ... but that’s frankly just not the case,” Williams said. “We’ve got a growing population of broken homes, and it’s sad.”

While he acknowledged that the building itself cannot fix the problem, he added that it certainly could help.

Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, echoed Williams’ sentiment.

“It’s been said that family is the nucleus of our community, and there’s a lot of truth to that,” Carter said. “This will give us the opportunity to build strong families, the opportunity to build a stronger community.”

Former Sen. Eric Johnson; Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway; and Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Garden City, also spoke about the importance of the department.

Department of Human Services Commissioner Clyde Reese commended employees within his agency for their tireless work on family issues ranging from children to senior citizens, even in the tough economy.

“State employees have not had a cost-of-living raise in five years now,” he said, adding that they even have suffered the equivalent of a 5 percent decrease in salary due to employee furloughs.

He announced that during the new fiscal year, which began July 1, employees of his department would have their furlough days reduced from 12 to six.

Liberty County DFCS Director Debbie Bennett said that the department’s scope of services will not change with the move — but that the “bright, positive work environment” should boost employee morale. Currently, the department rents a smaller space on North Main Street.

The 22,690-square-foot facility is scheduled for completion in May. Duluth-based Hill, Foley, Rossi and Associates architects designed the building, and J.K. Lockwood Construction Company will complete the work, Brown said. 

Bank of America is financing the $4.8 million 20-year mortgage on the building, which is owned by Liberty Projects Corporation, an entity owned by Liberty County, according to Mike Romano, senior vice president of credit products for the BoA’s government banking division. The state Department of Family and Children Services will rent the space on a year-by-year basis, with the intention of renting long-term.

The first phase of construction, digging a retention pond toward the rear of the site, will begin next week, according to project superintendent John Waters.

The site also will have a memorial garden dedicated to Eric Leach, a county-employed truck driver who lost his life in an accident while preparing the site in May 2010, according to Clenton Wells, county public works director.

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