A local lawmaker questioned Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo’s decisions to spend nearly $1 million buying the former state Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) building to house city departments.
During the Monroe City Council’s Jan. 28 meeting, state Rep. Pat Moore questioned the city’s decision to buy the old DCFS building located at 1401 Stubbs Ave. Mayo’s plans for the building entail relocating several departments there to serve as a “one stop shop” for organizations doing business in the city and needing permits and more.
The city bought the building last September for $925,000. City Council members authorized Mayo to enter into a professional service agreement with Bill Land, with Land 3 Architect, to design the renovation work at the building.
Before the City Council approved the architectural agreement, Moore approached the podium and conveyed several questions her constituents had posed to her about the purchase. For example, why did the city buy a new building instead of renovating the City Hall Annex South building on Jackson Street.
“It was stated that city officials believe that the new building at its location would save time and money. How much money?” Moore said. “And was there an urgency to relocate? If so, what was the urgency?”
“And why was this building not renovated and brought up to the 21st century?” Moore added.
Moore asked whether any location in southern Monroe was considered for the One Stop Shop.
“Were there any other options? Especially on the Southside considered?” Moore said.
Constituents in District 17 were unaware the city was seeking to relocate city departments from the CHAS building to a new location, according to Moore. She asked City Council members whether the plans to relocate were made as publicly as Mayo’s plans for a new arena.
“Was the public informed about the plans, for example, on the level as it was when you were considering a new arena?” she asked. “I know none of my constituents were informed about it. So again, was the plan to relocate these departments to a new location discussed with the residents? Especially in that area.”
Moore also asked how many vacant buildings the city owned in southern Monroe.
City Councilwoman Juanita Woods looked to other City Council members, City Attorney Angie Sturdivant and Stacey Rowell, the city’s director of administration, for a response. Rowell took charge in answering Moore’s questions.
Rowell explained the CHAS building has experienced two fires and has become a burden to keep up because parts of the building being unusable.
“The building at CHAS is oversized for what we need to do down there. It’s had two fires down there already,” Rowell said. “It’s become burdensome to maintain.”
Rowell explained that buildings in the city were not large enough for the One Stop Shop concept the city wanted. The DCFS building is 22,582-square feet.
“When you look at some of our buildings around town, they just aren’t large enough to do this One Stop concept we have been discussing,” Rowell said. “So when this building became available, we went to this building about three times.”
Rowell explained the city decided the DCFS building was the best option after exploring other possible locations.
“It seemed to be the right fit with the amount of money we had available,” Rowel said.
Rowell said there were vacant fire station buildings in the city, but they were only good for storage.
“We don’t have that many vacant buildings that you would think,” Rowell said.
“Was there any consideration of building a new facility? Moore said.
“We did consider that. We do not have the funds to do that,” Rowell said.
The city bought the DCFS building from ROM Properties LLC in Ruston for $925,000. ROM Properties consists of Darren Oglesby of LIBRE Legacy from Monroe, Jesse H. Roberts III of GBH Enterprises and Tyler C McConathy of Lincoln Contracting, LLC, each of Ruston.
Moore expressed concern by explaining people were worried about city departments leaving south of Monroe.
“I think one of the reasons why people were concerned about this building and these departments leaving this facility is the fact that there’s not many places you can come to South Monroe,” Moore said. “We have the zoo, which is a plus to us. We had the public safety building, so I think they were just hoping that something could be done that the departments would be able to stay in that location or a location in the area.”