American Rescue Plan Act funding is helping Lawton Farmers Market Institute take care of some unfinished business.
Comanche County Commissioners approved an agreement Monday that designates $200,000 of county ARPA funding toward the institute, which built and manages Lawton Farmers Market at 77 SW 4th Street. The facility was specifically designed to provide an indoor/outdoor venue for the weekly sales of locally-grown produce, as well as provide a forum for events ranging from weekly classes to the setting for the Arts for All soiree that helped open the past weekend’s annual Arts for All Festival.
Pouring rain aside, weather conditions aren’t really an issue this time of year. But the market was designed to provide a year-round venue for the activities it hosts, and the pavilion area can be cold during the winter months, said Larry Neal, vice president of Lawton Farmers Market Institute. That’s why ARPA funding will be spent on buying and installing heaters and containment screens for the outdoor area.
Neal said the board has been working for more than a year on the $200,000 ARPA request as a way to address unfinished pieces of the farmers market that opened to the public in February 2022.
“We made the building smaller,” Neal said, explaining construction costs drove up the price of the project, so the institute made the building smaller and omitted other things to ensure the project fit into available funding.
The smaller building meant fewer stall areas for people to show and sell their produce and wares. The pavilion provides space for more stalls to be set up, but Neal said that area lacks heaters and screens.
The institute’s plan is to install clear screens for the pavilion, which can be lowered to provide shielding against the wind, meaning the pavilion can be used more comfortably in the winter. Neal said there already has been a need. When Comanche County Health Department held a drive-through COVID-19 vaccine clinic over the winter, the day was bitterly cold for those who worked the event. Health department officials said they would have benefitted from a shielded area and heaters.
But summer heat and wind also can be a problem. That’s why the institute wants to install heaters and fans to make the pavilion more comfortable despite the time of year, Neal said.
The upgrades are part of an overall effort to add amenities to the farmers market building. Neal said the institute is working on a plan to install security cameras to provide better protection.
Neal said the work will be done in phases, as the institute has the money. The ARPA grant is provided on a reimbursement basis, meaning the Lawton Farmers Market Institute must first spend the money, then be reimbursed. So, the plan is to do remaining projects a little at a time, as funding is available, then be reimbursed.
“We have until December 2024 to get it done,” he said.