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Wednesday, January 24, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard
Sobering Center one step closer
The Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously approved a contract on Tuesday awarding Tegrity Contractors the right to construct the Austin Sobering Center. Austin/Travis County Sobriety Center will remain the name of the local government corporation that operates the facility.
The contract worth $770,777 clears the way for Tegrity to convert the old Medical Examiner’s Office building at 1213 Sabine St. into a facility that will be used to divert intoxicated people from the county jail.
Per the interlocal agreement between the county and the city of Austin, the county is donating the building and picking up the cost of its renovation while the city will spring for its operating costs.
Roger Jefferies, the head of the county’s Justice Planning Department, said that Tegrity could begin its work as early as next week. The length of the term is 150 days, which allows for a planned soft opening of the facility in August, according to the center’s executive director, Rhonda G. Patrick, who was appointed in December.
Now that a deal on the physical space has been struck, Patrick said she will move forward with hiring and training the 27 full-time employees expected to staff it.
“It really gives us a timeline now that’s really tangible in order for us to open the facility and really start doing what our mission is, and that’s diverting folks from jail, from EMS, from the emergency rooms to the Sobering Center,” she said.
Patrick said she hopes to have the center fully operational by October. The first floor of the building will feature an intake area, an assessment area and room for 40 beds, eight of which will be designated and cordoned off for women.
One aim of the center is to ease the burden on the jail system and free up officers who would otherwise have to endure the lengthy booking process for individuals picked up for public intoxication. It will also provide an alternative to local emergency rooms.
And its boosters are always quick to point out that the center is more than just a drunk tank. The center will be staffed with counselors who can help provide pathways to treatment for people caught up in addiction.
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