By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
Plans for the construction of a new building to house the Martin Luther King Center became one step closer to reality this week.
City councilors approved the selection of a Bartlesville-based architectural firm to oversee the facility’s design and construction. Ambler Architects was selected from a field of 11 firms vying for the project.
The Rev. Marlon Coleman, one of eight members of a task force created to guide the King Center project, said Ambler Architects presented the most comprehensive vision for the future King Center.
“We envision the new Martin Luther King Center will be a lot more expansive in terms of reaching a more diverse group,” Coleman said about the panel’s recommendation. “We wanted to be certain that we had the right tools to be able to bring together people from all walks of life. Ambler was able to demonstrate a vast experience in doing that.”
Coleman said the task force would meet with representatives of the architectural firm to iron out a schedule to meet with various focus groups. The firm will rely upon feedback from those meetings to create its design for the new King Center.
Ward III Councilor Derrick Reed, who also serves as the Martin Luther King Center’s programs director, said there is a lot of excitement within the community about the project.
“Everybody is excited about the reality of a new King Center coming to this area,” said Reed, one of three city councilors appointed to the task force. “Although we will lose the history of our current building, we will still be on the same grounds where we began.”
The King Center began showing significant signs of wear and tear early last year after a series of small earthquakes rocked parts of Oklahoma. An engineer who surveyed the structure said the deterioration was due to the temblors and an extended period of extreme drought.
The engineer deemed the building safe for occupancy but cited a need for “significant repairs to increase its longevity and long-term safety.” A Tulsa company that specializes in foundation support work estimated it would cost nearly $102,000 to stabilize the structure.
With inadequate funding immediately available for repairs, city councilors formed a task force in February to consider options for reconstruction, relocation or both. Relocation was ruled out after city councilors approved the purchase of two tracts of real estate immediately north of the present site.
Parks Director Mark Wilkerson said construction of the new King Center could cost up to $500,000. He said funding that project likely will be a public-private effort.
Reed said private fundraising already has begun. The Manual Training Reunion Inc. donated $300, which was accepted Monday by the City Council. Reed said the task force likely will apply for a grant from the City of Muskogee Foundation.
While fundraising will be an important part of the work ahead, Coleman said the “most important next step for us will the focus groups.” A schedule of those meetings, Coleman said, likely will be scheduled soon.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.