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Amid controversy, the Almost Home Transitional Housing Program is abandoning its efforts to covert the former Oak Grove School building into temporary housing.
James Cantrell, a county commissioner and an Almost Home board member, said Monday that his organization had thoroughly discussed the issue and agreed enough opposition from nearby residents made it unfeasible to move ahead with the project.
“Due to concern by the neighbors, we’re not going to pursue the school project at this time,” Cantrell said. “We were going to have a public meeting about it, and people were upset, so the board decided not to pursue it.
Nearby residents expressed that they were concerned about whether temporary housing occupants could make the area unsafe.
The Franklin County Board of Education had unanimously approved at its June 9 meeting to lease the building to the Almost Home Transitional Housing Program for 10 years at $1 per year.
The board’s action also included a 90-day notice requirement for breaking the lease and the same amount of time on the other end if the Board of Education decided it has a use for the property and wants it back.
However, in the meantime, area residents have expressed opposition about safety concerns and had asked the board to reconsider and not lease the property to Almost Home.
After the board discussed the issue further on July 14, board member Betty Jo Drummond motioned, and the board concurred, to table the issue until after a community meeting is held and further information is gathered about the potential impacts of converting the school into a housing project. She said that after the meeting were held, the issue could be brought back up for the board to reconsider whether to continue with the lease agreement.
Chairman Kevin Caroland cautioned the board about getting involved in a potential developing controversy.
“We don’t want to be mixed in anything we’re in the middle of,” he said.
Franklin County Commissioner Barbara Finney, who represents the Alto/Oak Grove area, summed up her constituents’ rationale to the board on July 14.
“I wish you all would reconsider the lease option and put it of for sale,” she said, referring to the school.
Finney said residents near the school have a “safety concern” about who their potential neighbors might be.
She requested that the school board set up a community meeting to field input from residents to more thoroughly understand the problems they have with the school being converted into housing for the homeless.
Cantrell made the initial request to the board in March to convert the property into housing.
The board had previously advertised to sell the property, but didn’t receive the interest it wanted and agreed to keep it for some other purpose.
In March, Cantrell asked the board to see if the building would be a viable location for transitional housing.
Board members advised Cantrell to contact Bobby Campbell, with the school system’s maintenance department, and tour the facility.
Cantrell had told the board he became involved with Almost Home because he initially thought Franklin County didn’t have a homeless population but found out otherwise.
He said the county has a need for transitional housing, and the Oak Grove building could work well into the organization’s plans to offer additional residential facilities for those who need it.
Cantrell told the board that ensuring safety would be paramount.
“There will be thorough background checks, and it will be monitored,” he said, referring to how the property and its tenants would be managed.
Cantrell said the meeting will determine what to do with the facility.
“We want to do what’s best,” he said.
Dwain Money, Almost Home president, recently said his organization assisted 591 homeless individuals last year and provided 723 critical needs services, including emergency motel stays, utility assistance to prevent homelessness, and food to feed the hungry due to extreme cold weather resulting in higher than average utility bills.