Council to seek negotiations with school district

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The Pawhuska City Council, by a narrow 3-2 vote, decided Sept. 23 to authorize one of its members and the city manager to seek to negotiate a lease with the local public school system for the use of a former Youth Services building on McKenzie Road.

Pawhuska Public Schools has proposed to use the building to house an Early Childhood Center, which would provide services to children aged 3-5 years. To help address a daycare shortage in the community, the school system has this year initiated a new program for 3-year-olds.

The building, which is city property, ceased being used as a youth shelter due to damage caused by inclement weather in February. Additional difficulties prevented the return of the building to service as a shelter.

City government came into possession of the building through a donation by the late Carl and Virginia Short, and the Shorts intended for it to be used in service of youth.

City councilors on Sept. 14 began the process of considering three proposals for the future use of the building. Proposals had been received from Youth and Family Services of Washington County, Pawhuska Public Schools and the Pawhuska Hospital.

At-Large Councilor Steve Tolson explained Sept. 23 that he had consulted Mark Short, son of Carl and Virginia Short, regarding the family's wishes. Tolson said he shared details with Mark Short about all three proposals, and Short expressed a desire for the city to seek an arrangement with the school district.

Tolson said he and Short had talked about what city government might do with any lease proceeds to be received. Tolson said he told Short that he thought lease proceeds should go into the building maintenance fund that Carl and Virginia Short established to address the upkeep of buildings they donated to the city.

Tolson said Mark Short responded that he would like for lease proceeds to be handled in that manner.

Ward 3 Councilor Mark Buchanan, who said he viewed the former Youth Services building as a gift to the city from the Shorts, seconded a motion by Tolson to seek lease negotiations with the school district. Mayor Roger Taylor voted with Tolson and Buchanan. Ward 2 Councilor Amber Nash and Ward 4 Councilor Rodger Milleson voted against the motion.

Representatives of the Pawhuska Hospital, as well as supporters of its proposal, made comments in the Sept. 23 council meeting that reinforced the seriousness of that institution's need for additional space.

"I feel like we could make our case to the Short family," said Beth Reed, chair of the hospital board. "I would just like the opportunity to present, maybe in a better way, to Mr. Short what we are proposing to do. I would like that opportunity to give our side a little bit more."

Reed said the hospital wanted to move outpatient services into the former Youth Services building due to the current COVID-19 situation. She added that the hospital is so full that some staff members have their offices in closets.

City councilors were also told that Pawhuska Hospital is currently having difficulty transferring patients to other hospitals.

Audience member Jerry Mosley pointed out that the hospital would be willing to take on the costs of maintenance and upkeep for the former Youth Services building, and pay lease charges. Mosley argued that Pawhuska needed the additional space for hospital services on an immediate basis.

"The hospital is an immediate need for everybody in this community," Mosley said. "It's a today need."

Audience member Patti Benson asked if the hospital had tried to lease space in the Osage County Health Department building, which is located nearby. Benson described the health department building as having unused space.

Reed said the hospital had tried to rent space in the health department building, but had been unable to do so.

Hank Benson suggested the hospital might check with Tri County Tech about obtaining temporary space.

Tolson and City Manager Tonya Bright are now authorized to seek lease negotiations with the public schools about the former Youth Services building.