At their September board meeting the Directors of Our Brothers’ Keepers made a strategic decision to move forward their plans for prisoner reentry in East St. Louis. Readers of this newsletter know that for several years our fledgling ministry has been focused on property acquisition and construction plans. It has been a long and arduous process, with both advances and setbacks, to do so legally and properly. The 2017 development plan for the OBK Campus included property acquisition and building design that would be followed by a capital campaign to raise the necessary funding. This is reviewed in the next section of the OBK Campus Development Planning.
Since quality reentry services are so urgently needed, a decision was reached to place first priority on providing the program for returning citizens and that this outweighs any considerations of land and buildings. Accordingly, both in its fund-raising efforts and in its ministry planning, OBK will give its first attention to delivery of case management, employment readiness, personal counseling, and other services vital for the return to society. It is estimated that about $100,000 must be raised to launch the first year of operation.
The search for a physical location goes on as we continue our conversations with the various agencies, officials and citizens of East St. Louis. Perhaps it is the Lord’s will that Our Brothers’ Keepers experience their own homelessness before attempting to solve that of others.
OBK Campus Development Plan (Property & Building Design)
January, 2017, marked the beginning of the process to develop a “returning citizens” campus in the East St. Louis community. OBK received the full approval of the East St. Louis Planning Commission on October 26, 2016 to build and operate a supervised home program for adult males released from prison that could be on parole. The approval plan included the security measures and monitoring procedures that would be in place for the returning citizen’s home residents. This approval was followed by a formal presentation to the East St. Louis City Council on December 8, 2016 with the approval of the Public Works, Finance, Public Safety and Community Development committees.
OBK Property Selection
OBK is working on two main areas, namely, the location of a property site in ESL for building the OBK Campus and the design of a building to provide both the resident’s living and service program units. We are continuing to work with Jabari Conrad (ESL TIF/Finance) and OBK provided a detailed list of criteria for the selection of a property site and/or and existing building for rehab. ESL has provided a listing of 36 properties that are available for possible site selection. These sites were investigated, but none were found acceptable based on location, transportation, limited acreage and possible environmental concerns. In addition, several buildings were investigated that had not been in use for several years and would also not pass the OBK criteria because of the environmental and rehab costs. OBK has also received offers of property donations from private sources and they were also not found acceptable because of potential environmental concerns.
OBK is currently working with the St. Clair County office of Mapping and Platting to review a listing of 3,434 parcels within the city limits of East St. Louis. These properties will be sorted based on acreage, location, transportation options and other factors that would affect site selection. These parcels were also found unacceptable because of limited acreage, unacceptable locations and lack of transportation links.
We are also working with the St. Clair County Board to review parcels managed by the Joseph E. Meyer & Associates. Joseph Meyer & Associates manages property for St. Clair County that are delinquent in payment of property taxes and properties not purchased by tax buyers at the County Tax Sales auction. OBK will review those properties that are available and not purchased by tax buyers to find a suitable property site in East St. Louis for a site for the OBK Campus.
OBK Building Design
OBK is working with Environs Architect-Planners on the building design based on a single building that includes the Property Unit (building) and the Operating Unit (program service provider area). The tentative building design including the property and operating unit covers about 6,300 sq. ft. of building space. The Property Unit includes a library/office, computer room, common gathering area, kitchen, six bedrooms & bathrooms, laundry, storage area and a mechanical room. The Operating Unit for providing residents and other participant’s services includes a group meeting area, offices, small kitchen, bathrooms and computer training areas.
The next step is to complete any building design changes and prepare drawings with sufficient detail to obtain construction bids. In addition, elevation drawings will be prepared with landscaping and parking areas etc. suitable to begin a capital fundraising campaign.