Amidst all the turmoil and personnel “turnover” at Big Five Community Services, a major renovation project is planned for the Dennis Huggins Memorial Apartments.
The $3 million plan to invigorate the former Bryan Hotel in downtown Durant was discussed Wednesday by Jim Petty of Strategic Realty, a housing development consultant who will be working on the project.
The funding comes from Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency, and Petty said the project was safe from problems in the Big Five housing department which could cause the agency to lose a pair of grants on other projects.
Petty said plans will be drawn up in early 2013 with a possible work date to begin in the middle part of the year. He styled it as “historical renovation,” focusing on the currently vacant ground floor which will be converted into retail space.
The 24 residential units will also receive upgrades which will make them more energy efficient.
“It’s a really good deal,” Petty said. “It will benefit the residents, and it will be a sort of bookend for what is being done in downtown Durant.”
The renovation plans provided a bright spot in an upbeat meeting which addressed the housing department problems and other tough issues facing the social service agency. For example, the board accepted another resignation, this one from John Crabtree who cited health reasons.
A handful of board members resigned in November, but re-appointments were not discussed Wednesday. Even with the vacancies, 10 of the 12 remaining members were present at the meeting this week. Ron Jacobs of Love County was named vice-chairman to replace Ted Dosh of Bryan County.
Interim Executive Director Frances Pelley expressed appreciation for board members during a “difficult time” for the agency and its employees. She also welcomed two members of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce – a state agency which works closely with community action agencies on funding and service issues.
In an hour-long closed executive session, the Big Five board discussed a “pending legal investigation concerning Housing Department funds.” The matter was not discussed in open session, but the board did vote to retain the services of attorney Mark Morrison in the matter.
During the closed session, the board also discussed current liability insurance policy claims and a “pending employment related claim concerning a former employee,” without taking action on the matters.
Other changes to policies were approved to help the agency avoid future problems. A three-year rotation for independent auditors was approved and the agency’s Employer-Employee Relations Policy was examined to clarify existing policies and reiterate the agency’s chain-of-command concept.
A special meeting of the Big Five Board was scheduled for Jan. 23, 2013 at 11 a.m. at the Big Five offices in Durant.