The facility, located on the site of an old Ryan’s Steakhouse, will also include offices for Cobb Community Transit’s paratransit staff, as well as Cobb Senior Services transportation officials, CCT Manager Rebecca Gutowsky said. In addition, the expanded paratransit program will lead to a 6,171-square-foot expansion of the county’s transit maintenance facility, already located in the same complex as the planned Mobility Center, near CCT’s Marietta Transfer Station.
The county spent $4.5 million to purchase property for the project, located east of Fairground Street and south of South Marietta Parkway, in three parcels between 2006 and 2009, with the Board of Commissioners approving all three purchases. Construction of the 10,560-square-foot administration building and the maintenance addition, which are expected to be complete in February, will cost an additional $4.4 million, with $2.8 million going toward the main building and $1.6 million for the maintenance expansion.
Gutowsky, who has headed CCT for 10 years, said the project goes back years, beginning with discussions she had with Laraine Vance, planning manager with the Cobb Department of Transportation.
“We knew for a long time that we needed to do something, because we are running out of space,” Gutowsky said. “It was something we needed to accommodate our paratransit program, and it blossomed from there.”
Gutowsky said the additions included bringing on Cobb Senior Services, which will have some of its senior transit training classes there as well as housing some staff. The larger facility could eventually allow the county to add services like van pools and volunteer ride programs.
“I think it’s going to provide transportation opportunities for now and the future,” she said. “Having this facility will allow us to expand to other opportunities … It’s trying to help people identify a number of different transportation options.”
The entire project, including land acquisitions, the new Mobility Center and maintenance expansion, plus a $650,000 design fee, will cost $9.2 million, said David A. Jackson, Cobb DOT project manager for the Mobility Center project. The county bought the Ryan’s Steakhouse property at 680 South Marietta Parkway for $1.25 million in July 2006, a former office warehouse at 431 Commerce Park Drive for $2. million in November 2009 and commercial property at 505 Fairground St. for $875,000 in December 2009.
The learning facility will make up about 20 percent, or 2,000 square feet, of the Mobility Center, Jackson said.
The project will also include parking for 79 paratransit vehicles, as well as 109 parking spaces for employees and visitors, Jackson said. It will add six new service bays for paratransit buses to CCT’s current maintenance capabilities.
Senior operations include running buses that transport people 60 and older to Cobb’s three neighborhood centers, as well as doctor appointments, Cobb Senior Services Director Pam Breeden said. The Mobility Center will have four senior service employees, including a program leader and coordinator, as well as one full-time and one part-time dispatcher.
Moving into the new location will allow the county to sell the space it has operated senior transportation services out of at 32 Fairground St. NE for 20 years, Breeden said. Senior Services has already stored its 32 vans near the Mobility Center site for the past two years.
The space being used by paratransit services will be freed up for other uses, Jackson said. The area vacated in the CCT Multi-Use Transit Facility next door will be used to expand the bus drivers’ ready room, and may be used to install a driving simulator in the future. It will also serve as a meeting room.
Though the Federal Transit Administration is paying for $8.2 million of the Mobility Center, some say the facility isn’t money well spent for the county.
“The same thing happens over and over again with the federal government,” said Bill Byrne, who served as Cobb Commission Chairman from 1992 to 2002 and is running again for the position. “The federal government says ‘we’re going to give you $10 million to build a facility.’ What they don’t understand is just the cost of operations from the day it opens up is going to go on forever. When you’re raising taxes and raising service fees and furloughing employees, to expand government services — I am vehemently opposed to it.”
The new building, with an annual operations cost of $52,000, will house Cobb Community Transit’s paratransit operations, as well as Cobb Senior Services transportation program. CCT director Rebecca Gutowsky said it will also offer training for seniors on how to use CCT, as well as to assist disabled students who are transitioning from high school to independent living arrangements.
In the disabled training, students and their caregivers come to CCT for the training.
“Students are provided information about the transportation services offered by CCT including information on our paratransit program,” Gutowsky said. “They board our buses, meet some of our operators and we demonstrate the features of our buses, including our wheelchair lifts and ramps, and our voice enunciators. The purpose of the program is to prepare students for the transition from school to adult life and to understand the transportation options that are available to them after high school.”
Gutowsky said CCT had four paratransit training programs in the past school year, along with four of the senior training sessions so far in 2012. The senior training is free of charge and includes an hour-and-a-half classroom session, followed the next week by a field trip in which seniors take a CCT bus and transfer to MARTA rail.
This week at the East Cobb Senior Center, located near the intersection of Sandy Plains and Holly Springs roads, around a dozen seniors took a class from Jean Aaron, Cobb Department of Transportation community outreach coordinator. She showed them a short video and instructed them on how to transfer from CCT to MARTA using a Breeze card, as well as telling them the difference between fixed, express and paratransit bus routes. They will wrap up the program next week when they take a trip to the Federal Reserve Bank in Midtown Atlanta.
Cosandra Keaton of west Cobb said she has taken part in the classes before, including taking a field trip to the Atlanta airport.
“It was very helpful,” she said of the class. “I actually used it after that and went to the airport several times.”
Keaton said she learned something new at Tuesday’s class. She previously wasn’t aware of the express routes that are offered.
But Nancy Van Dyke of east Cobb said that while the information taught in the class was valuable, she primarily took it because of the chance to get to visit the Federal Reserve. She doesn’t feel comfortable taking transit alone.
“I am single,” she said. “I don’t think I would attempt to go by myself anymore. I’d have to have somebody else with me.”
Breeden said “Get on the Bus, Gus” campaign is intended to alleviate such fears. She said it has been used at Cobb’s multipurpose senior centers for five years. Between 20 and 30 people typically take the classes.
“We want them to feel comfortable with (transit),” she said. “We want them to feel safe. We want them to be confident with what route to take.”
Gutowsky said the senior training will be offered both at the mobility center and at the senior facilities.
The Cobb Board of Commissioners voted in May to accept a $527,850 federal grant to restore paratransit services for 200 people who lost service when the county cut three bus routes last year, which the county will be responsible for matching. And each of the four commissioners have placed a line item on their project list for the July 31 Transportation Investment Act referendum, in which each district would get $1.9 million in paratransit and senior vouchers if voters in a 10-county area approve the 1 percent sales tax.
Larry Savage, a retired east Cobb businessman who is also running in the July 31 Republican Primary for chairman, said that while paratransit and senior services are compassionate for the county to provide, he questions whether the government needs to be involved in such services when nonprofit agencies and the private sector could provide them.
“I do not think we should undertake new or expanded services without a clear understanding that there is a role for government in providing that service,” Savage said. “We should not provide new or expanded services without a clear and reliable forecast of the ultimate magnitude of the commitment and a determination of the costs and the source of permanent funding.”
Gutowsky said the county could eliminate CCT if it wanted to, but would be responsible for reimbursing the FTA for the remaining value of all its assets bought with federal money, including buses, facilities and land.