The Door County government is looking at options to purchase an existing building or construct its own to house a new sober living facility, which could open in spring 2023 at the earliest, county officials said this week.

A sober living facility – a supportive place for people to live while in treatment for or recovering from addiction – would fill a crucial void in Door County’s resources for addiction recovery. Officials in the county Health and Human Services (HHS) department have said it would improve outcomes in addiction recovery while reducing the amount the county spends on treatment.

The county has not had a robust option for such a facility since the Sturgeon Bay nonprofit Kimberley House closed in 2015 due to funding issues.

Under a county proposal first released in January, the county would spend a portion of the almost $5.4 million it is allocated under the American Rescue Plan, a 2021 federal Covid relief law, to purchase or construct a building to house the facility.

The funding would come from the $1.2 million in Covid relief funding that the County Board of Supervisors in February allocated to the HHS department. That total also includes a separate proposal to bolster child care.

Committees provide feedback

Two committees of the County Board this week discussed options for opening a facility. Members of the Health and Human Services Board on Monday spoke in favor of constructing a new building, saying it would allow the county to build something exactly to its specifications and would provide better long-term value, even with a higher initial cost.

After a Wednesday morning meeting of the Highways and Facilities Committee, county administrator Ken Pabich said the county first would seek to purchase a building. If it is unable to do so, the county will construct its own, Pabich said.

County officials have disclosed the address of one building they are looking at as a purchase option, one of several they have considered. Knock is choosing not to publish the details of that building so as not to affect any purchase negotiations.

At the Health and Human Services Board meeting Monday, HHS department director Joe Krebsbach said he is seeking a facility that would have space for five to six individuals of each sex, with one unit for men and another unit for women.

Those numbers are based on what the county sees in terms of the need for addiction treatment, Krebsbach said. Based on participants in the Door County Treatment Court alone, he said, a sober living facility could have housed three to four residents of each sex over the past year and a half. That doesn’t include other people struggling with addiction who are not in the Treatment Court program, he said.

“I’m trying to have a big enough facility to meet the need, but not too big that it becomes unmanageable,” Krebsbach said.

Krebsbach said wants the facility to be within the city limits of Sturgeon Bay, so residents would be close to the county government center – where the county provides outpatient addiction treatment – as well as employment options.

Options vary in cost, timeline

Constructing a new building would cost the county more than purchasing one, Pabich said at the HHS Board meeting Monday.

The two committees this week reviewed rough estimates for new construction options that ranged from $550,000 to $800,000.

Constructing a new building would mean it could take at least a year to open the facility, Krebsbach said in an interview Wednesday. If the county were to buy an existing building, he said, the facility could open in spring 2023 at the earliest.

It would take at least six months to open a facility regardless of which option the county goes with, Krebsbach said, in part because of staffing turnover in the HHS department. Department deputy director Cori McFarlane in July announced her retirement, effective in January. Jake Erickson, the county’s Aging and Disability Resource Center director and another top manager in the department, also recently resigned.

“We’ve been looking at this a long time,” Krebsbach said of the sober living facility. “It’s important that we do it right, and that includes also really figuring out how we would staff it and support the individuals who are living there.”

The county did not initially discuss operating and staffing the facility itself – or constructing a new building – when it first released the proposal early this year. The county remains interested in exploring having a contractor operate the facility, Krebsbach said, but it hasn’t found a contractor able to commit to it. The county will take the next six months to decide that as it also figures out staffing within the HHS department, he said.

Peter Devlin contributed reporting.