GATESVILLE — Work to convert one wing of the old MHMR building into an eight-bed, 24/7 mental health services center has begun after Coryell County commissioners this week approved $44,400 for electrical, plumbing and structural repairs.

The north wing of the 70-year-old building that was once the county hospital will have eight beds for a transitional mental health unit that is part of a four-year project funded through a Section 1115 Medicaid waiver that will provide $1.50 in federal matching funds for every $1 of local money spent.

Commissioners approved money for the work Tuesday evening and by Wednesday morning trusties from the county jail were moving equipment and old files out of the wing to clear the way for electricians, plumbers and carpenters, Commissioner Don Jones said.

Contractors and county maintenance workers are pushing to have the renovations done by the end of September to qualify for fiscal year 2013 federal matching funds.

Work was delayed until the state fire marshal granted a waiver of a required sprinkler system on the condition that the center would be staffed 24/7 and would have no more than eight overnight residents at a time, County Judge John Firth said.

The county also waited for an asbestos inspection by the city of Gatesville, which was completed last week. While tests showed there is some asbestos in the building, Firth said, none is present where the renovation will be done.

The second phase of the project — finding a site for a new 30-bed crisis respite care unit near Metroplex Hospital — stalled last month when the Cove Industrial Foundation decided the center would not be a good fit for foundation land near the new south bypass in Copperas Cove.

“The board of directors just determined that the facility wouldn’t fit with the best use of the build out of the development,” said Jimmy Clark, chairman of the foundation.

Clark said there are other opportunities for the MHMR center in Copperas Cove.

County commissioners originally hoped the larger crisis-respite site, like the transitional unit, would be in Gatesville, possibly near Coryell Memorial Hospital.

Eldon Tietje, executive director of Central County Services MHMR, said the crisis-respite center will require psychiatric staff, which Metroplex has and Coryell Memorial does not.

Jones and Commissioner Jack Wall expressed concern that, once the crisis-respite center is opened, the transitional unit in Gatesville will be closed.

“It is our intent to keep both facilities open,” Tietje said.

Mason W. Canales contributed to this report.

Contact Tim Orwig at

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