The Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities will move this week into a new, 73,000-square-foot, $4-million complex at 7991 U.S. Route 23 in Lewis Center.

The Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities will move this week into a new, 73,000-square-foot, $4-million complex at 7991 U.S. Route 23 in Lewis Center.

Superintendent Robert Morgan said his agency expects to occupy about half of the space, with the remainder going either to contracted service providers or compatible agencies.

"We've been approached by a number of organizations," Morgan said. "Primarily we're looking at our provider organizations, the ones we contract with to provide services to those we serve. We could also look at partner agencies, organizations we don't pay, but for example the health department or Community Action."

The move will begin Wednesday night and the first full day of operations will be Monday Oct. 4.

"What this will achieve is it will allow us to bring our services together and increase our operation efficiency," Morgan said. "It will give our staff working space. And it's going to give us meeting space, so we can meet individually with our clients. We'll have seven conference rooms so we can have seven team meetings going on concurrently."

The developmental disabilities board originally was formed to provide an educational alternative for children not capable of course work in public schools. The mission later changed to one of general support for disabled children.

"We serve very, very young children identified at birth with developmental delays, to adults who are 75 or 80 years old," Morgan said. "We have a largely young population, with 80 percent under the age of 21. That's not typical in Ohio. It's a result of demographics. Delaware is a young community. You have a lot of families moving here for the educational system and other services."

Partly through historical accident and partly through design, Delaware is one of the leading models in the state and even the nation in changing from government-provided services to a "self-determination" model, Morgan said.

"We have services that are highly respected across Ohio and across the country," Morgan said. "We've had people move here from other counties and other states because they've sought out and know about our services. We've had calls from Alaska, Arizona, California. People say, I've done some checking, I hear the services are very good in Delaware County, tell me about them."

In 1997, when Delaware County was poised for a population explosion that forced the board to expand its capabilities, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided a grant to four Ohio counties to try a new delivery system. Instead of the board providing services, the board would help clients manage funds and buy their own services.

"The money goes to the individual," Morgan said. "We help them manage it, but they get to choose where they go.

"We have contracts with 180 independent providers and 84 agency providers," Morgan said. "This is a shift in how we do business. We authorize funding for individuals, and they can choose who they want to provide services. If they're unhappy with the services they're getting, they can go someplace else. When all the service was provided by one entity before, if you were unhappy with your services, you were stuck."

Morgan said some boards do not believe in the Delaware model, and one reason Delaware was able to develop its method was that it was simply the easiest way to grow.

"When you are an organization invested in your own programs, it's kind of hard to dismantle that," Morgan said. "That was unique about Delaware. We were so small, at the end of the 1990s ... we had to grow. Because of the growth of the county, it was much easier to grow by contracting than it would be as a public entity to buy buildings, hire staff and deliver services. It's really what allowed us to expand our services."