Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

On a Mission for Homeless Veterans: HUD Official Wants to Turn Lawton Schools into Apartments

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

On a Mission for Homeless Veterans: HUD Official Wants to Turn Lawton Schools into Apartments

Article excerpt

LAWTON - Bill Bright is working to end homelessness among veterans in Lawton. The director of community planning and development with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said he'd like to turn unused elementary schools into apartments.

Vouchers from two federal agencies would cover costs to run and maintain apartments and could also provide revenue for the school system, he said. Ideally, homeless veterans and their families would have new apartments at low to no cost, and social workers would be on-site to provide mental health services, Bright said.

The plan is in the early stages, and he has several obstacles to overcome. Lawton Assistant City Manager Jim Russell said he supports Bright's plan, but the city can't contribute to it.

"I think it is a great concept, and I would love to do something for our veterans, especially our homeless veterans, but the city doesn't have the funding or the buildings," Russell said.

Bright hasn't yet proposed the idea to officials from Lawton Public Schools, which owns the property and must approve the building sale. However, the school district is willing to consider any potential buyer, spokesman Keith Mitchell said.

The empty schools need renovations to turn classrooms into apartment buildings. Bright is helping coordinate a task force to formalize the plan, including working with United Way of Southwest Oklahoma. If nonprofit organizations gathered donations and businesses donated labor and materials, they could help keep costs low, he said.

Lawton Public Schools closed four elementary schools and one high school for at-risk students at the end of the 2014-2015 school year as part of a consolidation plan. The B.C. Swinney Elementary, Brockland Elementary, Park Lane Elementary, Wilson Elementary and Gateway Success Center buildings all are empty.

"The plan is to sell those buildings, and if an entity such as HUD or the VA is interested in purchasing those and rehabbing them for use, we'd certainly be open to that," Mitchell said. …

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