Tied votes, bickering over the definition of wellness and debates about specific locations have delayed plan. Legal challenges also became part of the discussion, and Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis Jr. is adamant the proposed location by the Oklahoma City-County Health Department needs to change.
Three groups have applied to operate one proposed center: the health department, NorthCare and Healthy Living, Inc., a nonprofit linked to Putnam City Baptist Church.
“The problem is we (city council) didn’t provide any consensus for the staff or subcommittee,” Ward 4 Councilman Pete White said. “We now have a road map, and hopefully the map will keep us out of the ditches.”
On Sept. 17, during a workshop session, the Oklahoma City Council, the MAPS Oversight Board and the wellness center subcommittee tried to reach some agreements to push the projects forward. The council agreed to negotiate with the three operating partner applicants and then charged the two citizen panels with recommending which project should be built first.
The recommendation will be based on the negotiations between each applicant and the city.
MAPS 3 director David Todd acknowledged that negotiations “could take two weeks or two months.”
However, OKC Mayor Mick Cornett said he was pleased the council was able to discuss at length major issues surrounding the centers.
“I think we’re back on the same page,” Cornett said.
Council members agreed on several things: the operating partners should not receive long-term subsidies, wellness center programming should be based on community needs and aquatics should be part of every center. In addition, the term “senior” was defined as anyone 50 and older.
Earlier this year, the subcommittee recommended the health department be selected as the only operating partner. However, that decision was overturned when the council decided Healthy Living and NorthCare warranted additional consideration as potential partners.
Still, there are unresolved questions about each applicant.
Pettis was forceful in public statements that Ward 7 constituents do not want a wellness center at the proposed 2600 NE 63rd St. location because of its remote area. Health department officials recently opened the new Northeast Regional Health and Wellness Campus at that site.
“Transit is too far away from everybody,” Pettis said. “The only people around there are from a mobile home park and Lake Aluma.”
However, Metro Transit officials contend bus route 22 will include the health department campus if proposed changes are approved by Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority trustees later this year. Currently, the closest bus connection is two-thirds of a mile from the health department campus.
Pettis suggested the health department change its proposed location to NE 10th Street and Douglas Avenue, “allowing it to be in the inner city, where the neighborhoods are.”
Meanwhile, the Healthy Living, Inc., application has drawn criticism from subcommittee and council members and the American Civil Liberties Union because of its connection to a church, creating a potential constitutional issue.
NorthCare has promised to examine the chances of placing a wellness center in south OKC. However, White stressed during the workshop that NorthCare has not secured a site location.
“None of the three are shovel-ready right now,” the councilman said. “There are reasons one or all of them would have to drop out.”
All three applicants said they also want to operate centers in north OKC. Healthy Living proposed a center at the Putnam City Baptist Church campus, 11401 N. Rockwell Ave., and NorthCare proposed a location on General Pershing Boulevard near the state fairgrounds.
City officials intend to build four senior wellness centers at a cost of $52 million.
The official MAPS 3 Implementation Plan timeline called for the first wellness center partner to be selected in late 2011 and early 2012.
Land acquisition and architectural and engineering work would have begun later in 2012. Construction on the first wellness center should have started this summer and completed the last quarter of 2014.
Construction on the first center is now scheduled to begin in 2016.