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City pursuing use of former Armed Services Y

City Council members gave city staff permission Tuesday to pursue an application that could allow the city to use the old Armed Services YMCA for youth activities.

The action  which doesn't approve the application, but only allows city staff to begin the process  comes despite plans by Lawton Support Services to seek the downtown facility as a safe haven for veterans.

The old facility, located adjacent to the mass transit transfer center and close to Lawton Public Library, was closed when the Armed Services YMCA moved to its new location on the north side of Elmer Thomas Park, adjacent to Cache Road, and City of Lawton officials have tentatively explored uses for the building since then. In October, the city received a notice of surplus determination from federal officials, giving the city 30 days to indicate to federal officials whether its administrators planned to apply to secure the building. City Manager Jerry Ihler submitted a letter to the Real Property Disposal Division of the Government Services Administration indicating the city's interest and city administrators toured the building and found it structurally sound.

Parks and Recreation Director Jack Hanna said his department wants to use the building as a youth-oriented recreation learning center, making use of amenities already in the building to provide things such as a computer lab compatible with Lawton Public Schools, as well as arts and crafts classes for children and other activities to enhance the quality of life in Lawton. Hanna said the building is especially attractive because the nearby bus transfer center means easy access for students (LPS secondary students ride LATS fixed routes free of charge).

"We can branch out," he said.

Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk, citing a conversation he had with the City of Seattle and its similar program, said he was excited by the plan, explaining he and other city officials could begin a campaign to raise funds and secure donations to provide items for the children who use the facility.

"This is a great idea," he said. "Everything seems to fit."

Ward 5 Councilman Dwight Tanner, who wanted to table a decision for two weeks, said he had questions, including how the city would fund the improvements needed for the building and its programs. Hanna said some of those questions can't be answered until the city completes the application that would show the federal government Lawton is interested in the building and exactly what the city plans to do with it. Hanna said he expects questions about cost to be answered by staff research.

The Lawton Constitution

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