By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor
COOKEVILLE – A lot has changed in the decades since the Upper Cumberland Development District established its Willow Avenue office. As the needs of the communities the agency serves have grown, so has the staff and the need for meeting space at the agency’s office.
Earlier this month, the agency finalized the purchase of $339,900 for a piece of property that will become the site of the new UCDD office.
Coming in at just under 20,000 square feet, the proposed new facility, which is still currently in the design stages, will offer nearly 5,000 square feet of additional space compared to the current office, while the new four-acre site will offer plenty of room for future growth compared to the one-acre lot where the current office is located.
“We’re on a very small site here,” UCDD Director Mark Farley said of the current office location. “If we have any type of meetings at all, it’s hard to park here.”
Home to an average of 60 staff members, the current office must also temporarily accommodate the additional 30 or so individuals in attendance during onsite board meetings.
“I don’t know that we’ve actually completely outgrown this building but we are right at capacity,” Farley said.
The current office also features an internal layout that doesn’t make sense for the Aging and Disability segment it serves.
“Here, this building is very long and, especially with our senior population that comes in, they have to travel a great distance,” Megan Farris Choate, UCDD Economic and Community Development Assistant Director, explained.
Seniors visiting the current office must travel to the rear of the building in order to reach the Aging department. In the new facility, the proposed layout would place that department near the front of the building, reducing the distance those with physical limitations would need to travel. Private meeting spaces would be located near the reception area for added convenience.
In addition to private meeting spaces, the new facility will also include a conference space expected to seat 100 people.
“We want it to become a meeting place; not just for Cookeville but for the region and also at the state level,” Farley said. “We’re excited about that – not just for what it’ll bring for us but also for what we’ll be able to offer to all our regional partners as well.”
The search for the agency’s new home wasn’t easy. Farley and his team reviewed existing buildings in the Putnam County area but says finding one to suit their needs was challenging.
“From a building standpoint, there really wasn’t anything out there that would work,” Farley said. “If you found a building, the parking was on a smaller lot.”
The new site, located on England Drive, sits just off of Highway 111 and Interstate 40 and is next door to the Upper Cumberland Regional Health Department Office. The close proximity to the two major roadways adds an additional convenience factor for those utilizing the services of UCDD as well as the agency’s staff members who travel to and from the home office regularly.
The architectural team responsible for designing the new facility, which will likely be a square-shaped design to accommodate any future expansion needs, is currently working out the details, which include a focus on incorporating natural lighting.
The final design and other related particulars must be approved by the full board before breaking ground on the new facility.
“We’re still probably a year or year-and-a-half away from being done,” Farley said. “We’re probably looking at late winter before we’d actually be ready to start construction.