The Howard County Department of Social Services plans to move its 120-worker offices from Ellicott City to Columbia, perhaps as early as the beginning of the year.
The department is looking for new offices that would bring workers closer to the majority of the department's clients, half of whom live in Columbia, said Samuel Marshall, social services director.
The move also will give the growing department badly needed space for its workers and clients, Mr. Marshall said.
Officials have talked for years about needing more space, said Alex Tickner, assistant director for administration and finance.
Since 1982, the department has been housed in a 12,000-square-foot space on the second floor of the county District Courthouse at 3451 Courthouse Drive. In that time, the number of employees has tripled.
"When we moved in, it looked like a football stadium that would never be filled," said Linda Zumbrun, assistant director for social services. "Now we're sitting on top of each other."
Because of minimal conference space, workers crowd into Mr. Marshall's office for meetings around a table that seats six to eight people.
The cramped quarters also affect walk-in clients, who must take a number and wait for a social services worker. Currently, about half of those clients end up standing in the department's lobby while waiting for service.
The department handles as many as 2,000 cases each month. That includes Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps, medical assistance, child protective services and other programs.
"There's limited interview room," said Stephen Marz, assistant director for income maintenance programs. "It is overcrowded."
The department is looking for 28,000 square feet of space for its new offices, Mr. Tickner said.
"It'll just give us all more breathing room," he said.
Legislators approved the department's relocation plan in the state's capital budget for fiscal 1994 and set aside $300,000 for the move.
By the end of November, the department plans to have a list of available office sites from leasing companies, Mr. Tickner said. A request for leasing opportunities was issued two weeks ago.
After a bidding process that ends in November, representatives from the department will visit locations to determine which site will best meet its needs, Mr. Tickner said. That will take about a month and then a final decision will be made, he said.
No new jobs are expected because of the move, Mr. Tickner said.