Nonprofits consider sharing building Organizations funding study to determine feasibility, costs


A number of Howard County's nonprofit groups are planning to fund a study to determine whether it would be feasible to construct or renovate a building as a local headquarters for community services.

As many as 30 private and public nonprofit organizations have expressed interest in moving into a "shared-use facility."

The building would bring together a number of nonprofit groups that play a large role in the county's economy and government.

By consolidating under one roof, the nonprofit groups might be able to cut costs for rent, utilities and secretarial services, said Barbara Lawson, executive director of the Columbia Foundation.

The Association of Community Services, with volunteer help from developers at Manekin Corp., the United Way and the Columbia Foundation, has raised about half the $35,000 needed for the study.

According to Lawson, a building of about 25,000 square feet would cost $3 million to $4 million to build. It would cost far less to renovate an existing building or locate in surplus county office space.

But, said Lawson, "There's no sense of going any further with the project unless we can determine that it's feasible."

The 30 nonprofit groups considering the proposal responded to a survey conducted last summer to rate the level of interest in a shared-use building.

Lawson said the study will address whether one building can house 30 or more groups that serve diverse needs.

"There are some real issues that have to be overcome," she said. "We're not sure if there'll be enough room for every group, for example."

Volunteers, employees

While some nonprofit groups are run by volunteers, Howard County's 687 nonprofits employed 6,622 people as of 1996, according to the Columbia Foundation. Employees at Howard County General Hospital, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and Howard County Community College account for a large percentage of them.

Through the Grant In Aid program, Howard County purchases services from various nonprofit groups instead of developing departments to provide the services.

"I think it'd be safe to say that nonprofits in Howard County have a closer relationship with the county government than other jurisdictions in the area," said John Geist, executive director of the Association of Community Services. "For example, the county doesn't operate its own homeless shelter as Baltimore City does, but it contracts those services" through the Columbia-based Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center Inc.

Other county-contracted nonprofit groups include the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County, the Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Foreign-born Information and Referral Network Inc.

Government relationship

The relationship between county government and nonprofit groups can prosper, Geist said, because of Howard's size.

"Howard is much closer in size to Carroll County as opposed to Harford or Anne Arundel," he said.

"Our size makes it easier for nonprofits to provide some of these services than for the county government to do it directly."

The Columbia Foundation annually funds about 40 to 50 nonprofit organizations with budgets that range from $4,000 to more than $8 million.

The nonprofits in Howard have "a very unique partnership," said Lawson. "This is a county where the [nonprofit] groups have a huge amount of respect for one another. It's quite a wonderful network."

The outcome of the shared-use facility project will likely depend on the findings of the study, Geist said.

Pub Date: 6/22/98

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