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The legislative chambers inside the Omaha/Douglas County Civic Center.

Douglas County is in the process of expanding mental health services by building a proposed mental health facility. Currently, the mental health care component of the Douglas County Health Center is located on the fifth floor of the facility at 4102 Woolworth Avenue. The county is developing options for a separate facility to address specific mental health needs.

Al Povondra from Carlson West Povondra Architects said Phase 1 was to come up with a model program for the facility, with input from county staff from the health, public property and corrections departments.

Povondra said while mental health needs have grown in recent years, a majority of people with go untreated. That has gotten worse locally because of closures at the health center for construction, and the pandemic caused client reductions and staffing issues. He said a recent study found 31% of metro area residents reported difficulty in obtaining healthcare in the past year.

The corrections center at 710 South 17th St. also has its own mental health facilities. Povondra said mental illness rates in detention facilities are 4 to 7 times higher than in the general population, which can lead to a cycle of incarceration.

“The jail is serving as the largest mental health facility in the state,” Povondra said.

Pavondra said they developed two options for the proposed facility, the first of which is to create a co-located facility that combines both community and correctional mental health. The second option would be separate facilities, similar to the current system.

The report found that a shared facility would require a nearly 70,000-square-foot space, and separate facilities would require 45,000 and 37,000-square-feet for community and correctional mental health respectively.

Commissioner Jim Cavanaugh said the co-location of criminal defendants with mental health patients from the community may contribute to negative stigmas about mental health. Povondra said that was the reason they assessed both options, and that he’s currently unaware of any co-located facilities elsewhere in the country.

The County Board also approved a one-year extension with financial consultant Deloitte for $250,000. Deloitte was contracted by both the state and the county to make sure they were in compliance with federal guidelines when distributing COVID relief money.

Douglas County Finance Director Joe Lorenz said the county has paid Deloitte $1.7 million for services since June 2020, the majority of which was for running the rental assistance program. Commissioner Cavanaugh, who was the sole vote against the agreement, said that’s much more than was initially estimated.

“I think that’s an outrageous amount to spend on anybody to administer a government program that we should administer ourselves,” Cavanaugh said. “We certainly could’ve hired a lot of staff for $1.7 million.”

City Council Approves North Omaha Theater TIF

The Omaha City Council met Tuesday to unanimously approve $390,000 in tax increment financing for the Shirley Tyree Theater in North Omaha. An existing vacant building at 2401 North 24th St. will be renovated for use as a black box theater, along with a 4,300-square-foot addition to the east of the building will expand the theater’s capacity from 40 people to about 190. 

The theater will be operated by the Union for Contemporary Art. Producing Artistic Director of Theatre for the Union Denise Chapman said the Shirley Tyree Theater will be the Union’s new home for theater.

Chapman said they’re dedicated to “having conversations that lead us to a deeper and better understanding of the human condition, and maybe see each other a little bit better.”

Local playwright Kim Whiteside said the new theater would support arts in the community. She said many people have gone on to have careers in theater after starting in North Omaha, thanks to the Union for Contemporary Art.

“During an audition for the Union for Contemporary Art, I saw people from North Omaha who, through their own self-admission, would never have thought to audition for a play,” Whiteside said. “Because it was in their community, they came.”

The City Council also approved a resolution to create the South Omaha Spring Lake Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), designating the neighborhood as blighted. The area lies south of I-80 and west of Henry Doorly Zoo.

The CRA designation allows for development projects in the area to apply for TIF funding. A CRA is a part of the city where the population is economically disadvantaged and the buildings and infrastructure are substandard. 

Don Seten from Omaha City Planning said Spring Lake’s per capita income was $19,271, compared to $33,401 for the city as a whole, and the average age of structures in the area was more than 80 years old. He said the area was largely developed at the turn of the 20th century, with many buildings constructed in the 1890s. 

Councilmember Vinny Palermo said he attended the community meeting with the planning department, and he said neighbors are excited for development in the neighborhood. 

“They’ve got their eyes open to make sure [development] happens in the right way, and I’m certain moving forward this is the way we do it,” Palermo said.


Subscribe to The Reader Newsletter

Our awesome email newsletter briefing tells you everything you need to know about what’s going on in Omaha. Delivered to your inbox every day at 11:00am.

Become a Supporting Member

Subscribe to thereader.com and become a supporting member to keep locally owned news alive. We need to pay writers, so you can read even more. We won’t waste your time, our news will focus, as it always has, on the stories other media miss and a cultural community — from arts to foods to local independent business — that defines us. Please support your locally-owned news media by becoming a member today.

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