FACS to open doors at new location today

After being located at 450 Scott St. for more than 20 years, Family and Children’s Services here will move into the newly-renovated westernmost portion of old Fort Frances High School on First Street East today (July 7).
During a walk-through last week, FACS executive director Vik Nowak and Community Services manager Betty-Anne MacKintosh praised the new location, saying the move couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We’re busy. Our service volume has increased,” said MacKintosh. “People are becoming more and more aware of our services.”
She noted recently-established partnerships with the likes of the OPP, Fort Frances Fire Department, Northwestern Health Unit, Rainy River District School Board, Northwest Catholic District School Board, and Weech-It-Te-Win Family Services has meant even more activity than usual at FACS.
MacKintosh noted the space at the new office—in particular, a multi-purpose room with videoconferencing capabilities—will allow for more opportunities for training and conferences.
This room will be made available not only to FACS and its partners, but be rented out to other groups that might want to use it.
“It’s one thing we’re really pleased about,” said MacKintosh, adding with the multi-purpose room, it won’t be an uncommon sight down the road to see representatives from other public agencies in and out of the new FACS building.
FACS will be occupying the main and top floors of the building while the lower level currently is vacant.
Nowak said FACS already has sublet out some office space to Integrated Services Northwest on the main floor. ISN is the “intake service” people go through before being referred on to FACS.
FACS has a total of 40 offices in the building while ISN has eight.
The main floor consists of the main entrance off First Street East, the reception area, some administration offices, family rooms for meetings and counselling, observation rooms (with one-way mirrors), a room that looks like a kitchen to train young adults with life skills, and the multi-purpose room.
The top floor consists mostly of FACS staff offices.
Nowak noted not only are staff glad to see the building has a state-of-the-art heating and cooling system, but most offices also have windows.
“The staff are excited,” he remarked, adding they even got to choose their own colours of paint for their offices.
The rest of the top floor is used for the resource centre, as well as rooms for the computer system and to store files. These last two areas, Nowak mentioned, boast a keypad security system that must be passed before entrance in granted.
The new building also is fully accessible to the handicapped. “One of the things we’re really looking forward to is the accessibility,” said MacKintosh.
She noted the new office will feature not only a wheelchair ramp to the main entrance, but an elevator that goes to all three floors, a low reception desk, lower light switches, some wider hallways, and handicap-accessible bathrooms.
Nowak said their former location only had a ramp in the front and a lift that only went up one floor as opposed to two.
He added the town recently denied FACS’ request for handicap parking spaces on First Street East in front of the building, citing the street is too narrow and designated as calendar parking.
But he’s hoping the decision may be reconsidered.
The property also includes 42 parking spots to the west of the building. This area is gravel now, but is expected to be paved in the future, Nowak said.
Nowak also noted he liked the look of the outside of the building, with the green and brown colour scheme and the myriad of reflective windows looking little like the old high school that stood there prior to the renovations.
He remarked the same style will be used for the other buildings on the old Fort High property that will be renovated in the future. “It will really be an attractive complex when it’s done,” he said.
One possible addition to the property down the road that both Nowak and MacKintosh are hoping for is a playground built to the east of the FACS site. This area would be a fenced-in section in between the other structures on the property, and meant to only be used by clients of the service.
A garage sale to raise money for such a playground is slated this Saturday (July 10) at FACS.
Nowak said while the lower level remains vacant now, he’d like to see more tenants move in that provide a service related to FACS (like ISN does), so the building could be a “one-stop” for those who need help.
Meanwhile, in the period of time leading up to next Wednesday, the new FACS offices are being cleaned up and painted, furniture is being moved in, and the computer network and phone lines still have to be installed.
MacKintosh noted FACS clients have been notified of the move, and the relocation should not affect services.
She said an official opening for the new digs will be held either in September or October, and will coincide with the annual provincial “purple ribbon” campaign for the prevention of child abuse and neglect.
MacKintosh added the open house also will be a good time for the public to meet FACS staff, find out more about what they do, and maybe even consider being a FACS volunteer.
Nowak noted the Saving School Memories committee, which toured the old high school before the renovations began and has collected memorabilia associated with it, should have a video for sale to coincide with the official opening.
He added there also is a chance display cases featuring old Fort High memorabilia may be seen in the new FACS offices sometime in the future.
The old Fort High property is being re-developed by Russell Pollard, Charlie Morken, and Steve Both, whom both Nowak and MacKintosh said were “very accommodating” to FACS.
“They’ve been working with the staff, getting their input,” said MacKintosh.
“They’ve really tried to make us happy,” said Nowak. “Nobody thought we’d get moved in by this summer.”