Dinwiddie Social Services eager to serve citizens in new building

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: December 5, 2018 | 1:45 p.m. 

County expects to be operating out of new building starting at the start of the year

DINWIDDIE – This time next month, much of Dinwiddie County’s governmental, health, and human services will be operating out of their new home inside the Dinwiddie Government Center along Boydton Plank and Courthouse Roads. 

As the final touches go on the building, so too does the transition for county offices from their current homes into the government center, with the Dinwiddie Department of Social Services is among those preparing to move to the new center of local government from their current – and temporary – home at the Historic Southside High School down the road. 

Last week, Dinwiddie Social Services Director Rose Mastracco and County Administrator Kevin Massengill walked through the new government center and the state-of-the-art space the county’s social services department will occupy, all while reflecting on where the county has come from in terms of facilities used to deliver vital services to county residents.

Walking through the building, the pair reflected on the old facility the department called home, which was torn down to make way for the new government center. According to Massengill, that old building contributed to the poor rating the county received from the state in terms of facilities used to accommodate a social services department.

“When I got to Dinwiddie,” Massengill said, “we were eighth to ninth from the bottom of the list. By 2006, we were down to about third or fourth from last and when we moved social services to the historic high school several years later, we were dead last.”

In speaking with staff who worked in the old facility, which dated back to the 1960s, Mastracco said employees worked hard in the small building, but there were some shortcomings due to the facility’s age and construction, such as narrow hallways that could present challenges to someone with a disability and a lack of vital storage space, which is critical to an agency like social services where files are stored on a daily basis for various cases and other needs, and the inability to retrofit the building with newer technology. 

Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill and Social Services Director Rose Mastracco look back at the 2012 space needs assessment done on the social services building, which was in serious need of replacement due to space, technology, and privacy needs. (Michael Campbell)

Mastracco said one of the biggest downsides to their old facility outside the Pamplin Administration Building was a lack of confidentiality and a lack of space be able to provide clients with a truly private consultation or discussion.

“While the communication between the staff at the old building was strong, overall, they did not like the old building,” she said. 

In addition, a study by architectural firm Baxter Bailey and Associates found the social services building to be “poor to sub-standard condition with serious problems” and would need major improvements to meet habitable standards.

It was decided that social services and the county health department, whose building was closed due to high levels of mold, would move to the historic high school while plans to address their needs were evaluated as part of a larger plan to develop a facility that would serve to bring as many county services under one roof for the first time in Dinwiddie’s history.  

Both Massengill and Mastracco credit the push to improve the facility being used to deliver social services to the efforts of Kathy Young, who served on the county’s social services board as a citizens advocate. 

“When the social services board was an administrative board, as they have now shifted to an advisory role, they were the ones who came to the county and said, ‘Look, the population of the group that we are talking about providing services for are the very population that feel like they don’t have a voice and they are not the ones who are going to go to a public meeting and advocate for themselves,'” Massengill shared. 

“The social services board was the voice,” he continued. “They were the ones coming to the board meetings and they were the ones speaking for staff and the citizens saying we might not get people standing in line to talk about the environment they have to be in to get government services, such as SNAP. If we believe this is an important part of what we do, then we need to have facilities to show these citizens they are just like everyone else. They were very strong in getting that accomplished.”

Fast forward several years after an intensive space needs study that looked at how much space all departments, social services included, would need inside a new facility for current service delivery and future growth, the new Dinwiddie Government Center will address many of the issues that were present at their old home before it was torn down and even at their current building at the historic high school where much of social services is fragmented and not in the same space inside the building.

“While they have worked incredibly well at the old high school, they aren’t all together and that can affect communication,” Massengill explained. “When you look at this building, and even the old building, they were close to each other and able to communicate. This move lends to the opportunity to bring everyone back together again.”

In January, the Dinwiddie Department of Social Services, Dinwiddie Health Department and the county’s office of children’s services will all be operating out of their new home on the first floor of the Dinwiddie Government Center, which will have access from both floors via a large foyer staircase and elevators, but also a ground level entrance featuring a drop-off/pick-up loop for easy access and ample parking on three sides of the building, one of, if not, the newest social services buildings in the Commonwealth.

Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill and Social Services Director Rose Mastracco stand outside the Dinwiddie Government Center, steps away from where Dinwiddie Social Services, Children’s Services, and the Health Department will call home this time next month. (Michael Campbell)

Walking through the social services space last week, Mastracco noted the new spaces for the department to use, such as play areas for children, offices for caseworkers to be able to privately meet with clients behind closed doors, along with spaces set aside for kiosks where citizens can access services, and enhanced conference and meeting space for staff.

“Staff recognizes this will be a cultural difference being in the same building as everyone and they do look at this as a way to serve the community better,” Mastracco said. “Our children’s area is going to be awesome, there are going to be lots of things for them to do and set up so things stay in one place.”

She continued, “A lot of times, people think of social services in a light that isn’t so positive but the children coming into our building, for whatever reason, can feel like this is a good place for them to be.”

At the end of the day, Mastracco wants the community to feel welcome when visiting the department in their new home, just as they did at the old facility, or at the historic high school.

“We pride ourselves, along with the rest of the county, on providing good customer service and we want to continue and hope they feel that whenever they come to see us,” she said. 

“For Rose’s clients and customers, who are our citizens, we want them to come and acclimate themselves to this space,” Massengill said. “This is the citizen’s building.”

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