Howard County Human Services Providers Finally Coming Together Under One Roof
By Al Cunniff
Nearly one dozen Howard County human services providers will soon co-locate at 9770 Patuxent Woods Drive in Columbia, MD.
When nearly a dozen non-profit organizations begin moving into 9770 Patuxent Woods Drive in Columbia later this year, it will be the realization of a plan that began nearly 20 years ago to create a Howard County Non-Profit Center to co-locate human services organizations under one roof.
The road to completion of this deal was long and winding, involving public and private entities, and it included serious funding and commercial real estate challenges, said Joan Driessen, Executive Director of the Association of Community Services (ACS) of Howard County, who helped spearhead the effort.
“People have been talking about this in Howard County for 20 years,” said Driessen. “There was an earlier effort that almost had the doors open, but a financing piece fell through. The project picked up again about four years ago.
Several ACS Board members at a recent meeting include, from left, Bob Martin, RM3 Enterprises; Mike Couch, Executive Director, MakingChange; Joan Driessen, Executive Director, Association of Community Services of Howard County; Grace Morris, Executive Director, Heritage Housing Partners Corporation; and Jennifer Pollitt Hill, Executive Director,HopeWorks.
“Most of the human services in Howard County are provided by nonprofit organizations,” she explained.” It’s a great model, efficient and effective. But agencies were spread all over county, located in inexpensive or free space, and often not near public transportation. It’s not always easy for the people who need our services to get to us. We knew that if we could co-locate our agencies in a place that was more accessible, that would be ideal, especially as our clients often interact with multiple providers.”
In mid-July 2016 the funding component fell into place, as Howard County Executive Alan Kittleman included $300,000 in his fiscal year 2017 budget to cover the nonprofit center’s startup costs. That was is in addition to a $2.4 million grant spread over 10 years to help defray lease payments.
Initial tenants at the non-profit center include the Howard County Housing Commission (master tenant), plus Association of Community Services of Howard County; Bridges to Housing Stability; Camp Attaway; Compass, Inc.; Heritage Housing Partners; HopeWorks, Inc.; Howard County Autism Society; MakingChange; READY/Howard County EcoWorks; and United Way of Central Maryland.
Tenants are expected to begin moving into the 35,520 square foot building in April. To date 27,332 square feet has been leased to nonprofit organizations. “We expect to have more tenants, making this a human services campus,” Driessen said.
Creating a plan for the non-profit center involved careful research and many partnerships. “Through our nonprofit network we heard about a conference that focused on this topic, so we attended their boot camp and learned a lot about what we needed to do. After that we conducted a feasibility study, and that formed the basis for our plan to co-locate Howard County’s human services.”
The Case Statement which Driessen helped create for the non-profit center cited numerous advantages for a co-location arrangement, including easier access to a “one stop shop” for residents seeking services, greater coordination of service delivery among providers, increased collaboration among the providers, and improved efficiency through shared services and space.
Another key, Driessen said, was engaging NAI KLNB commercial real estate broker Abby Glassberg to help identify a suitable property and help shepherd the complex deal through to completion.
Joan Driessen, right, Executive Director of the Association of Community Services of Howard County, worked with NAI KLNB’s Abby Glassbergto identify the best property to co-locate county human services providers.
“We met with many commercial real estate companies, and a number of them said you really need to talk with Abby Glassberg. Abby identified about a dozen properties for us to consider, then we visited each and went down our checklist. The one we chose is truly ideal.” The property is located near Broken Land Parkway and Snowden River Parkway, convenient to a bus stop.
“Abby has been such an advocate every step of the way,” Driessen said. “Because she has done so much work with non-profits in her career and personal life, Abby understands their needs—and they are very different from commercial enterprises. Without Abby’s dedication and determination, I am pretty sure there would be no Non-Profit Center.”
The late Thomas Carbo, who was Executive Director of the Howard County Housing Commission until his death in November 2016, was another key resource in the non-profit center project, Driessen said. “Tom’s role in this was critical. We were not in a position to hold a lease of this size. Tom was willing to step up and have the Housing Commission be our master tenant. Tom was a real linchpin, plus he provided the services of one of his project managers, Cynthia Newman-Lynch, to help me through this complicated process. We could never have done this without her.”
County Executive Kittleman has long been an advocate for the non-profit center. “For two decades, Howard County's nonprofit community has advocated for a centrally located, ‘one-stop' facility to provide critical services for county residents,” Kittleman said. “Making this dream a reality was the result of the concerted efforts of Joan, Abby and other advocates in the public and private sectors. Howard County has always been a place that reaches out to help others, and this is the latest example of how we put our values into action.”
The center will include significant amount of shared space, such as a conference room, meeting room, training space, interview rooms, a computer room and more, in addition to a reception area, mailroom, internet and phone service and more.
Howard County attorney Thomas Meachum, Esq., who was president of the ACS when the non-profit co-location center became a reality, cited Driessen’s and Carbo’s efforts, “as well as those who supported to most recent phases of the project. The Horizon Foundation, Community Foundation and Kahlert Foundation all helped with startup costs. This was a great effort involving public and private sectors, with the goal to serve all constituencies efficiently and effectively.”