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Muskogee County (OK) EMS Proposes Move to Former Juvenile Detention Center

Photo/Muskogee County EMS

Ronn Rowland

Muskogee Phoenix, Okla.

(MCT)

Muskogee County Emergency Medical Service is looking to move from its location to one that will allow them to provide services in a more timely manner.

Muskogee City/County E911 Trust Authority Executive Director Laurel Havens proposed a possible site to the Muskogee Board of County Commissioners at its regular meeting on Monday.

Havens suggested the move from its current location at 200 Callahan St., to the former Muskogee County Juvenile Detention Center on Columbus Street near the overpass.

“For some time now, especially the last four or five years, we have struggled to get across the viaduct,” Havens said. “A huge percentage of the calls received in the city limits of Muskogee is west of us, so we have to try and get over the viaduct. We have a pretty good location as far as centrally located, but if you’re in a hurry it’s not that good.

“That is our main building with offices on either side of it and parking on two sides of it.”

District 3 County Commissioner Kenny Payne, board of commissioners chairman, said they have for some time struggled with what to do with the vacant detention center building.

“That is an asset the county has with a lot of history to it,” Payne said. “When the city proposed an urban renewal project where the old building sat, they offered to build a new juvenile detention center — where to put it — and they decided over by the Columbus Street bypass, and they did. So that was our juvenile detention center and it operated for several years.”

On Nov. 1, 2020, a state law took effect that restricted detention options for the state’s youngest teens and provided additional protections for most preteens from incarceration. In December 2019, the Oklahoma Juvenile Authority suspended its contract with Muskogee County commissioners after inspections earlier that year revealed concerns about licensing standards.

Payne said that basically sealed the fate of the detention center.

“The Oklahoma Juvenile Authority decided they had a few more juvenile centers than they needed and closed down a few, which included ours,” he said. “It has been sitting dormant for a couple of years. It’s a nice facility, nice structure and we feel like we ought to be doing something with it.”

He also said that the board of commissioners has been actively seeking a new occupant.

“We’ve actually had discussions with two or three different entities — some within the county and some not — about the possible use of it and none of that has come to pass,” Payne said. “I was having breakfast one day with Laurel and we began wondering ‘What if?’ Laurel believes the site on Columbus would make a good command center for EMS and move that operation over there.

“We’ve even talked about swapping our property on Columbus with his property on Callahan.”

Havens said the project is in the suggestion stage. He said there’s a lot more planning and discussion before the project can be started.

“We’ve been looking for some time to get off Callahan Street,” he said. “I drove around and talked to the city a little bit about some property they had. The problem is we would have to engage in multiple conversations to purchase property in order to get enough room to do what we need.”

The detention center facility, should the move be approved, would require a remodel of the interior. Havens said that would take approximately one year before EMS could take occupancy.

“The building has good bones,” he said. “The rooms are not conducive to office space — they were designed for prisoners, for kids — so we would have to renovate the entire building. The part that comes out to the east…it’s a relatively inexpensive build, about $90 a square foot for base space, and we would house all of our emergency and disaster equipment there.

“If we move, I want nothing left on Callahan Street.”

Havens said that there are some obstacles from moving the project forward.

“Right now, I would have to get the city to close a street, and then we’ll purchase that one railroad property that will tie both pieces together,” he said. “We’re also waiting on information from FEMA; we are owed $3 million in COVID relief. Once we secure the funding, we can move forward.”

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