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Virus funds going to building

Commissioners vote 2-1 for $250K to $300K structure at fairgrounds for clinics

WARREN — Trumbull County commissioners on Thursday approved spending up to $400,000 of special pandemic CARES Act funding on building a structure at the Trumbull County fairgrounds to administer drive-thru vaccination clinics.

The decision was a 2-1 split. Commissioners Mauro Cantalamessa and Frank Fuda voted in favor of the building, while Commissioner Niki Frenchko voted “no.”

The project was proposed by the Trumbull County Combined Health District as a way to give shelter during the drive-thru events and increase the number of people who can be vaccinated at one time by increasing the lanes of traffic.

It is expected to cost between $250,000 and $300,000, and will include the excavation, foundation, building, electrical, HVAC system, drive entrances and exits. The structure is being purchased through the state purchasing program and is expected to take four to eight weeks to construct.

At a Feb. 2 meeting, local fire chiefs and health board representatives discussed the project with commissioners and asked for a quick decision on the matter.

Frenchko said she was concerned that the county could be held liable for the cost of the building, if it was found it was an improper use of CARES Act funds.

She reiterated the concerns Thursday.

Before spending money on a new structure, efforts should be made to look into cheaper options, like leasing somewhere or modifying an existing structure, Frenchko said, as the federal rules require. Frenchko also said she believes the county should not centralize the vaccine distribution at the fairgrounds in Bazetta, when pop-up clinics could be held at existing buildings dispersed through the county to meet people where they are.

The clinics have been held twice per week at the fairgrounds.

In a letter from the health board to commissioners last week, members state they checked to see if the Youngstown Warren Regional Airport would allow space there to be used for the drive-thru clinic. But the hangars are leased and in use, and not an option.

The former Kmart distribution center on Perkins Jones Road in Warren wasn’t an option because most of the building is leased and occupied, the letter states. The Youngstown Air Reserve Station isn’t an option because civilians would have to receive background checks, the letter states.

While several communities have offered their facilities, including the Liberty Township Administration Building, the Niles Wellness Center and the Girard Multi-Generational Center, the locations are not suitable for a drive-thru clinic, the letter states.

The locations “will be utilized when possible; however, they are what we consider ‘walk-in clinics’ and do not compare to the volume our drive-thru clinics can handle. Drive-thrus inoculate nearly three times as many people per hour as the walk-in clinics — 75 per hour vs. 200 an hour at our current drive-thru clinics,” the letter states.

Also, the need to provide social distancing as people wait before and after the shots is a problem, the letter states.

Frenchko said she wasn’t convinced the board truly investigated other options, and she is concerned approving the structure is bending the rules on how the CARES Act money can be spent, and leave the county responsible for the bill after an audit. She said she would consider reporting the project herself.

Frenchko said people from the southern townships, and other areas of the county not close to Bazetta, along with people without transportation, should have options in their communities.

Other communities have used parking garages and church parking lots, and polling locations used during elections can handle large amounts of traffic, Frenchko said.

Cantalamessa said perhaps the health board should have looked at more options and seriously consider adding pop-up clinics, but a decision had to be made and he favored helping the vaccination effort.

Frenchko said she believes the vote was contrary to federal policies and the opinion the county received on the topic from the county prosecutor’s office.

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