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Sobriety center advances, but location still up in the air

Wednesday, June 1, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Everything is falling into place for an innovative facility designed to battle addiction and substance abuse, except for one key detail: where to put it.

The Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday heard from members of the working group tasked with ironing out a plan to create the so-called sobriety center, a project backed by both the county and the city of Austin.

Still up in the air, though, is where the sobriety center will be located. The leading candidate is the Medical Examiner’s Office building at 1213 Sabine St. That facility will soon be freed up when the ME’s Office moves to new digs being built in northeast Austin.

However, its proximity to University Medical Center Brackenridge, a property being eyed for massive redevelopment, has lessened its standing in some eyes.

County Executive of Justice Planning Roger Jefferies told the court on Tuesday that the working group had, at Commissioner Gerald Daugherty’s request, also toured the county-owned University Savings Bank building at 1010 Lavaca St. That property, just to the west of the Texas Governor’s Mansion, has a much lower chance of redevelopment thanks to heavy encumbrances by Capitol View Corridors. It is also proximate to the county’s civil and criminal courthouses as well as Travis County Central Booking.

Jefferies told the court that the working group would consider the two locations at its next meeting on June 6. The ultimate decision, however, could end up being a temporary solution.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt noted that the Austin State Hospital near the Triangle could soon be redeveloped in such a way that would justify locating the sobriety center on its grounds. She conceded, though, that the sobriety center’s timeline can’t wait for that work to begin.

“At this juncture, really, it’s the old Medical Examiner’s location and 1010 Lavaca that are the only two in contention,” Eckhardt said. “That doesn’t mean that it will be at either of these locations forever, but it is probable that it will be at one of these two locations for the first five to 15 years of life.”

The sobriety center, once opened, will divert from the county jail anyone who would otherwise be arrested for public intoxication. Officials, including Eckhardt, have repeatedly insisted that the facility won’t simply be a drunk tank but will instead offer medical services and tools aimed at battling addiction.

Jefferies told the court that officials from both the county and the city have signed off on the details of a cost model as well as the interlocal agreement to set up a special corporation to operate the center.

“We negotiated a board structure for the local government corporation, which would allow Travis County to pick four members, the city of Austin to pick four members, and then you jointly pick the ninth member,” Jefferies explained.

He added that the working group will consider the finalized terms of the cost model and the interlocal agreement in addition to the two discussed locations at its next meeting.

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