Council discusses future of Youth Services building

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The Pawhuska City Council on Sept. 14 held an initial discussion of proposals for the future use of what has been the Youth Services building, located at 1616 McKenzie Road.

The building, which city government owns, was used until earlier this year for a youth shelter. Severe cold weather in February caused damage that resulted in the shelter being closed, and further complications led to the complete cessation of shelter operations in the structure.

The council has received three proposals for future use of the building, and discussed those proposals the evening of Sept. 14 without reaching a decision. Mayor Roger Taylor, who is a member of the council, was absent.

City officials indicated the issue would likely be included on the agenda for a Sept. 23 council meeting. The Pawhuska City Council currently holds its meetings at the Community Center on Lynn Avenue.

Youth and Family Services of Washington County, the Pawhuska Hospital, and Pawhuska Public Schools submitted documentation that reflected their interest in using the building.

Katie Wilson of Pawhuska, who is executive director of Youth and Family Services of Washington County, spoke to the council in support of that organization's proposal. The proposal says that the Washington County agency now has the state contract to provide youth services in Osage County.

Wilson told the Journal-Capital that Youth and Family Services of Washington County is already providing services in Osage County, but not from a single, central facility. She also said that she has consulted with state officials, who have told her that funding for a youth shelter in Pawhuska is not "off the table."

Wilson said she has been hearing from residents of the Pawhuska area that they are interested in having a youth shelter in the building, and she voiced a willingness to pursue the re-establishment of a shelter.

During the council's discussion Sept. 14, both Councilor Mark Buchanan and City Manager Tonya Bright voiced an interest in seeing the building continue to be used for youth services. They noted that the late Carl and Virginia Short, who donated the building to the city, intended for it to be used for youth services.

Pawhuska resident Bill Sweeden said he agreed with the idea of continuing to use the building as a facility for youth services.

Pawhuska Hospital board member Ben West and administrator Jason McBride spoke to the council in support of leasing the building to the hospital. The former youth shelter is located near the hospital and would allow it additional space to house its growing range of services to the community.

The hospital has run out of room for staff members and for services, its written proposal says.

"The lease of this space is critical to the hospital mission of providing quality care and a great work environment for its employees -- issues which also seem central to the city's mission," the hospital said in its written statement. The hospital offered to lease the former youth shelter for $2,000 per month for five years, with an option to renew.

West emphasized to the council at more than one juncture in the discussion that the hospital could start on work in the former shelter immediately, and he assured the council that a lease of the property to the hospital would mean a monthly lease payment with no worries.

Pawhuska Public Schools also offered to lease the former shelter for five years, with renewal options. It proposed to use the structure to house an Early Childhood Center. The former shelter is just down the street from the school system's administrative building and relatively near to school facilities. PPS offered a $500 per month lease payment. It also proposed to pay for minor repairs and to carry insurance on its program.

The public schools did not have anyone at the Sept. 14 meeting to speak in support of its proposal, but Wilson -- of Youth and Family Services of Washington County -- told the council that her organization could potentially work with the schools in some way.

Councilor Amber Nash said she thinks the decision is difficult, adding that she knows the hospital needs space.