Proposals to lease the National Guard Armory in Elmer Thomas Park to Lawton Community Theatre, and to provide city employees to help the health department’s COVID-19 vaccine program will top the agenda when the City Council meets today.
The session will begin at 2 p.m. in the auditorium of Lawton City Hall, Southwest 9th and C. It is the first regular meeting of 2021, although council members already have met twice this year in special sessions, including Monday’s swearing-in ceremony for the Wards 6, 7 and 8 council members.
Among today’s discussions is a proposal from Lawton Community Theatre’s governing board to lease, occupy and maintain the National Guard Armory on the north side of Elmer Thomas Park as its new facility. Council endorsement is the first step in LCT’s plans to organize, draft architectural designs and raise funds to convert the armory to its use.
The City of Lawton has owned the armory since 2015, when the State of Oklahoma released the building after doing extensive remediation that included removal of lead paint and asbestos. The city had deeded the land to the State of Oklahoma in 1953 for construction of a National Guard Armory. That armory was home to the First Battalion, 158th Field Artillery, from 1954 to 2011. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2007.
Since 1966, LCT has been housed in the John Denney Playhouse on Northwest Bell, a 185-seat theater in the round with dressing rooms, scene shop, costume shop and storage. But, LCT officials said the building has challenges because of its inadequate size and its location in a flood plain, which has allowed water inundation multiple times.
LCT officials want a larger location that would allow expansion of programs, both traditional theater presentations and what they call a robust children’s program. They said they also have talked to other Lawton-Fort Sill arts advocates “and collaboratively imagined an arts complex that would house LCT while providing space for large community theater events, field trips for youth and regional theater classes.”
Officials want the armory for that use and if the council endorses the idea, LCT will have architectural plans crafted and raise funds for conversion. Its officials then will meet with city officials to craft the details of a 50-year lease for the building. LCT would have five years to make its plan a reality, under a Letter of Intent submitted to the city by LCT managing director Chance Harmon.
Council members also will consider a request from Brandie Combs, regional director of Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Region 5 (which includes Comanche County), to provide help with the COVID-19 vaccine program now under way across the state, including sessions being held in Comanche County at the Comanche County Fairgrounds.
Combs, noting the challenges being presented by the program, has requested temporary assistance from the City of Lawton, which could include designating a “select group of City employees” to help register and schedule appointments for residents getting vaccinations. Other assistance could come in areas such as answering telephones and responding to e-mails, assistance that “would provide a direct benefit to the citizens of Lawton who are needing assistance in scheduling their COVID-19 vaccinations.”
Council members also will consider amending the city’s 2020-2021 budget, increasing the revenue projection by $11.8 million and appropriating $2.347 million to various departments for personnel services, materials, supplies, and other services and charges.
The change is one of several city administrators have recommended this fiscal year for a what had been characterized as a stand-in budget when the council approved it in Spring 2020. Then, the revenue picture was unclear and city staff recommended setting a budget that would fulfill state statutes, while being aware it would be adjusted as revenues became clearer.
That has happened. While initial revenues were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the business activities that produce sales tax and other income for the city, a strengthening economy and federal funding designated to Lawton through the CARES Act have increased revenues. Today’s adjustments will allow the city to add $1,425,407 to special funding (funding allocated for specific purposes), $433,604 to the Enterprise Fund (revenues generated by water, sewer and refuse) and $488,286 to the General Fund.
The council also will consider approving a new policy that sets formal criteria governing interactions between council members and city staff. The policy is an expansion of a provision contained within city charter specifying “except for the purpose of inquiry,” council administrative dealings with city staff must go through the city manager. Those provisions apply to all but the four employees hired and fired by the council: the city manager, city clerk, city attorney and municipal judge.
Among other things, the policy specifies unprofessional actions, gestures or language during interactions are prohibited and should be reported; election officials should not engage in public criticisms about the performance of individual employees; and no employee may work for or against or attempt to influence the nomination, election or defeat of any candidate for mayor or council member while on duty or in uniform. The city manager will invest alleged violations of the policy by employees; if a council member is found to be in violation, the council may take disciplinary action against that person.
In other business, the council will consider:
• Approving construction plans from McKee Enterprises for a traffic signal light on Cache Road at Northwest 50th Street. McKee is developing property at 4800 Cache Road (a former car dealership) and has said a traffic signal light is essential to make the commercial property viable. The council approved conceptual designs for that light in July, with directions to the developer to prepare development plans that would align a light for its commercial property on the south side of Cache Road with Northwest 50th Street on the north side.
• Accepting donation of 2,654.99 square feet of temporary right of way from Republic Paperboard, necessary for road upgrades the city is planning for Neal Boulevard and Ard Street in the west Lawton industrial park. The city will use Capital Improvements Program funding to upgrade the roads.