The facility would have been housed in the housing authority’s farm dormitory, a well-kept building on spacious grounds a couple of miles north of town.
Heavers said the town will lose out on jobs and tax revenues, and having the building used by the 7th Judicial Community Corrections would have been a “perfect fit” and relieve the housing authority of a cash drain that the building presents.
“I am definitely disappointed,” Heavers said. “Economically it would have been a very good thing in terms of the limited use of that facility. I think the town would have really benefited, not only the economic benefit, but also the employment of approximately 20 people would be running it on a day-to-day basis.”
But that failed to sway the town board, which voted down the proposal, 5-2 on Sept. 13.
Ironically, neither the housing authority or Community Corrections needed the approval of the town board. But Community Corrections bylaws stipulate that their facilities be welcomed by the communities where they are located, Heavers said.
“They already had use by right and could have come in and written a check and been in there in a heartbeat,” he said. “I don’t blame them and take my hat off to community corrections for wanting to be a good neighbor, but the community didn’t afford them that opportunity.”
Heavers indicated a vocal minority whose main argument was “not in my back yard” influenced the town board.
Heavers also believes the board meetings were “packed” with people who had their employees come to the meetings, many of whom didn’t speak English.
Although he attended all the Olathe board meetings for the last two and a half months, large groups of Hispanics showed up in the last month, whom Heavers believes were “recruited” to come to the meetings in opposition to the facility.
“I wish there would have been a much wider representation of the whole community,” he said. “A lot of times when people are satisfied with a situation or not opposed, they have a tendency to stay away, and only the ones in opposition will show up.”
On the other hand, Olathe is a farming community with conservative values, he said.
“We respect the farmers but there is that tendency in a small town like Olathe to keep it the way it is,” he said.
Trustee Doyle James, who voted in favor of the facility along with Trustee Lou Cooper, said he thought the facility would have been “good for the town and the people that need the facility.” When asked if he thought attendees at the meetings had been recruited or if the meetings had been “packed,” he answered, “No comment.”
Just what will happen to the attractive, well-maintained farm dormitory is up to the housing authority board, which had already approved the sale of the facility for $450,000 to the 7th Judicial District, which Heavers said was a fair market price.
But for now, the building remains a drain on the housing authority budget.
Several groups in Montrose and Olathe are working toward a shelter for homeless people, and that might be a possibility if those efforts move forward, Heavers said.
The Housing Authority can do pretty much what it wants with the building since it recently paid it off in full and it’s zoned commercial. Heavers said he is open to suggestions from the community as to how to use the building, which sleeps 72 and has amenities like a basketball court, dining room and commercial kitchen. Heavers can be reached at 323-5445, ext. 1006.
“It actually could be anything, even somebody who wanted to open a prison,” he said. “We’re open to any suggestions for the dorm, including a homeless facility.”
The dorm was built in 1992 to house agricultural workers at the request of the area agriculture community, and stayed full during summer season for many years but was never fully utilized in the winter months, Heavers said.
“In order to be fully utilized, there needs to be something in there year round,” he said. “That’s why the 7th Judicial District would have been a good candidate.”