Construction for a new building to house the Carter and Love County Department of Human Services offices is scheduled to begin in November on Travertine Circle, DHS announced Friday. DHS signed a lease with Joel Wisian, who owns the property.
The site of the building came under fire from residents of the Hickory Ridge housing addition, who said they were misled in that they expected more housing on the property. A press release issued said DHS spent the past two years studying the needs of Carter and Love counties, including office space necessary to house staff and provide services to residents. The location will offer a central location to meet the community's needs as well as those of the agency.
Because of concerns expressed on social media at a city commission meeting, the press release said Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Ardmore) and Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) met with DHS to review the process and plans for the building. The report said Simpson and Ownbey said they understood the concerns of residents, which is why they requested the meeting with DHS.
DHS, as well as Wisian, stressed their desire to be good neighbors to those residents upset by the location of the building.
"Our business is helping people, and we always try to be good neighbors, no matter where our offices are located," said DHS director Ed Lake. "The residents' concerns came to our attention well after all appropriate zoning, advertising, preparations and approvals had taken place. However, at the request of Sen. Frank Simpson and Rep. Pat Ownbey, we re-examined the site and our options with Mr. Wisian and Brian Carter of the Ardmore Development Authority. Our discussion with the ADA confirmed previous evaluations that there were no other suitable locations available for this office. We believe Mr. Wisian is committed to erecting and maintaining an attractive building and grounds."
Adding to resident's outrage was ADA literature that showed housing would be placed on the site of the DHS building.
"While the ADA was not part of the decision-making process, I was happy to meet with everyone to review the options available," said Carter, ADA interim president and CEO. "We did not have another site that fit DHS' needs, but we took the conversation seriously."
DHS Carter and Love County director Linda Moore said present housing is not large enough to house employees, and conditions are substandard. The release said she is looking forward to having a pleasant and professional place for staff to work, as well as being able to have them together under one roof.
"Presently, our employees in various programs are separated into several building across the two counties, and that makes it difficult to efficiently provide services," Moore said. "This new building will allow us to serve clients more comprehensively and provide a welcoming atmosphere for those seeking assistance for themselves or their family."
Construction is expected to be completed in late 2014. The office will operate 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The building will also feature a large community room, which will be available to the public after hours for a variety of meetings and events.
"We will continue to be a good neighbor and advocate for our community," Wisian said. "Quality of life is what makes southern Oklahoma great, and this new Department of Human Services office will equip the professionals with the tools they need to ensure that quality of life remains available for everyone."