PAW PAW — The construction of a new Van Buren-Cass health department building at the Van Buren Intermediate School District campus in Lawrence will soon become reality.

“They hope to break ground in the fall,” county board Chairman Richard Godfrey said Tuesday.

County commissioners put in the final chunk of money at that meeting, chipping in $1.25 million for the $8.9 million project.

The project was first floated three years ago and consists of constructing a 20,000 square-foot addition to serve as medical, dental and office space. Plans include training ISD students in the facility. There’s also what’s called the Main Street part of the project, which will be businesses such as restaurants and a beauty parlor employing students in the building where real goods and services are provided.

The idea was first made public in March 2016. “It’s a fabulous project for the people of Van Buren County,” Godfrey said. “Great collaboration between the intermediate school district, the health department and the county government.”

Godfrey said it’s the first such combined program in the state. Right now the main Van Buren-Cass District Health Department office is located near Hartford on County Road 681, adjacent to the fairgrounds. There’s also a dental office near Mattawan plus facilities in Cass County.

The intermediate school district is contributing $3.7 million, the health department $5.1 million, of which $2.8 million is a bond.

A year ago the countyboard had put its stamp of approval on a $4 million bond for the health department. However, according to a memo from County Administrator John Faul, the county’s contribution reduces the bond to $2.8 million and means a savings of $1.8 million in interest over 20 years.

Economic Development Director Zachary Morris also approved of the idea.

“The project,” Morris said, “is a great example of what the future of economic development will be. It brings together all the primary stakeholders in order to create an environment of prosperity, business, education and community.”

The ISD has awarded a contract to Owen-Ames-Kimball of Kalamazoo for the entire project. The largest subcontractors are Kalamazoo Mechanical of Kalamazoo at $1 million, Schepers Brothers Company of Cutlerville at $798,000 and Hi-Tech Electric Company of Portage at $794,000. Besides O-A-K, there are 29 subcontractors.

Unpaid loan

In other matters, commissioners decided to seek legal remedies against RNS Packaging of Paw Paw over an unpaid $80,000 loan from the county’s Economic Development Corporation.

According to Morris, it’s the first default in the history of the program. “We’ve had a really good track record,” Morris said.

Also, commissioners set a truth-in-taxation hearing for 2:50 p.m. June 25, 2019.

Under the law, a municipality must reduce its millage whenever additional revenue comes in. The reduction zeroes out any increases. Holding a truth-in-taxation hearing gives a local government the right to override the reduction and take in the whole amount. In this case, the amount in question is $302,372.