MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

May 12, 2013

New home for King Center likely

Council gives initial approval for purchase of site next door

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Plans to build a new home for the Martin Luther King Center moved forward when city councilors tentatively approved the purchase of land adjacent to the current location.

City Manager Greg Buckley executed a contract Jan. 3 with the owners of the two parcels, securing the city’s option to purchase the property before July 12. The contract guarantees a purchase price of $24,000, which would paid from funding budgeted this year for facility repairs.

The acquisition, if it receives final approval Monday, would ensure that the popular community center remains at its present location, just north of Martin Luther King Street. Ward III City Councilor Derrick Reed, who is the center’s programs director, said the community is attached to the present site.

The King Center began showing significant signs of wear and tear early last year after a series of small earthquakes rocked parts of eastern 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. Councilors on the task force said other parcels were considered, but those that might be available is unknown.

“It’s a no-brainer to go ahead and get that land,” said Ward III Councilor Randy Howard, who was part of the task force. “We can buy that land (with funds budgeted for repairs) and still have enough money to pay the architect.”

Reed said about $5,000 of the $45,000 budgeted this fiscal year for King Center repairs were spent on minor fixes. He said most of those repairs were cosmetic, but the building that serves as home for a popular after-school program and numerous community events should remain viable until a new structure is built.

Reed said task force members are scheduled next week to interview architects who have expressed an interest in designing a new building. The task force will forward its recommendations to the City Council for approval.

The King Center was built in three phases, starting in the early 1940s. It was used by the United Service Organization in support of the troops during World War II and thereafter. The building became a library for Muskogee’s black residents.

The city assumed operations of the King Center in 1974, providing a place to promote opportunities and “serve the youth of the Afro-American community.” Then- Mayor Kathy Hewitt issued a proclamation in 1995, rededicating the building for that purpose following a renovation.

Reed said the after-school program has an enrollment of 78 and an average daily attendance of just more than 60. Its summer youth feeding program averages about 500 children a week, and the summer night basketball program attracts about 300 people every Friday and Saturday night.

“One of our wishes was that we stay here at this location,” Reed said. “Even though we will lose the history of this building, we will still be in the vicinity. That is something we can be proud of.”

Councilors will consider final approval of the purchase at their meeting at 7 p.m. today.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.