Comanche County won’t be rebuilding the former American Legion building after all.
County commissioners unanimously voted Monday to rescind a decision made last summer to designate $1 million from the Comanche County’s share of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding toward a project to rebuild a smaller building on the site at the Medicine Park exit of Interstate 44.
The original 10,000-square-foot building — well used by numerous entities, including Wichita Mountains Area Senior Citizens Center — was destroyed by fire in February 2019. The board of commissioners said in June 2020 that the county-owned building was too important for residents in the area to not replace it. Commissioners voted in July 2022 to designate ARPA funding to help make that project a reality. But two of the men who made that decision lost their re-election bids and have been replaced by District 1 Commissioner John O’Brien and Ward 3 Commissioner Josh Powers.
O’Brien made the motion Monday to cancel those plans, removing $1 million designated to the American Legion building project and putting that money back in the unallocated pool of ARPA funds for redistribution to “whatever you want to use it for.” Commissioners also said there was no reason to extend a concession agreement with the Wichita Mountains Area Senior Citizens Association, since the building no longer exists.
Commissioners did not say why they changed their minds about funding the project. After the meeting, O’Brien wouldn’t comment on it, but said he and other county officials weren’t abandoning the senior citizens group. O’Brien said he has spoken with Tom Spears, the group’s spokesman, multiple times about the group’s search for a permanent home and has identified several suitable structures in Elgin.
Spears said the group is disappointed with the commissioners’ decision to abandon plans to rebuild the American Legion structure.
“We waited four years. It’s really disturbing,” he said, adding the county’s decision is keeping the group from moving forward. “It’s been a very disappointing end to your promises.”
O’Brien said he has been working with the group since he took office Jan. 3 to identify new locations for the senior center, and District 3 Commissioner Josh Powers said commissioners will keep working with the group.
“We can look at other facilities,” Powers said, urging members of the Wichita Mountains Area Senior Citizens Association to reach out to commissioners with ideas. “It’s not shelved.”
Spears said a permanent home is important to a senior citizen center that serves the needs of northern Comanche County.
“We’d appreciate any help we can get,” he said.
Cheryl-Ann Fogel, a member of the center for 10 years, apologized for her tears as she addressed commissioners Monday.
“It’s been a hard four years. Tom worked so hard to get us a new center,” she said, adding the Wichita Mountains Area Senior Citizens have had to downsize activities as the entity remains in temporary housing while members worked with the county to get their site rebuilt.
Fogel said that center is crucial to senior citizens in the county.
“It’s the only good meals they get,” she said of some who rely on the meals served by the Delta Nutrition Center, adding that for others, it’s the only daily socialization. “We need a permanent place.”
Spears said there is other action commissioners must take in light of Monday’s decision, including conversion of the water account if it intends to retain a water meter. Spears said the Wichita Mountains Area Senior Citizens Association kept a meter at the site even after the fire, but will make its last payment this month. So, if the county wants to avoid a new connection fee, it must make arrangements with Comanche County Rural Water District 1 to take over the meter by April 30.
Spears also warned commissioners they must notify the National Park Service that American Legion Park no longer will be supported, if the county intends to abandon the site. He said that under a contract with the National Park Service, Comanche County pledged to provide specific services and maintain the land as a county park.