By Alton Porter, Courier Reporter
Following discussion on the matter in executive session, the City of Crockett City Council voted at a meeting to authorize City Administrator Sean Hutchison to enter into negotiations with Serenity Place, Inc., of Houston to see if a lease-purchase arrangement can be worked out between the city and the business for the former Crockett State School property.
Mayor Pro Tem Muriel Williams offered the motion to give Hutchison the authorization, and the motion passed on a unanimous vote of the council members at the regular council meeting Monday, May 2.
Following adjournment of the meeting, Mayor Robert Meadows explained the matter to the Courier.
"We have a prospective tenant (Serenity Place, Inc.) for the State School, and there's been a draft for a tentative lease agreement," Meadows said. "What we did (in executive session) was to talk about what we're prepared to accept. And we authorized our city administrator, on our behalf, to go into negotiations because it's rather difficult since we have five people plus myself (on the council). We can't really get together. So, we authorized him (Hutchison) to negotiate on our behalf. Any changes in the initial agreement will have to be authorized by the city."
"But, we're very hopeful," Meadows said. "It looks promising, and I would say, as a praying man, be praying for someone that's a good fit. It's real potential (that an arrangement can be worked out with Serenity Place, Inc.). I think everyone is very optimistic. I'd like to say more, but really I don't know anything more than that because of the fact that they're just finding out that we're willing to negotiate something for them. That's what they found out tonight. We've let them know that it's available. Their financials look good, so they look like they would be financially able to move in if all the other details are worked out."
Meadows said Serenity Place, Inc., works with Child Protective Services to provide a place and care for children who had been placed in foster homes and their placement in those homes did not work out. Sometimes the children have special needs, or maybe their social skills are lacking and they need a more structured environment, Meadows said, adding, "that's where this type of company comes in."
Meadows said there's a tremendous need in East Texas for the types of services Serenity Place, Inc., offers, noting that the company will be moving from Houston to Crockett if its negotiations with the city are successful. The company currently has another facility in addition to the one in Houston, and it would combine both into one here if an agreement is reached. He said, based on the services the company would bring to Crockett and what the former state school property has to offer in terms of its structure, "it looks like a really good fit."
A successful arrangement would be good all-around for Serenity Place and for Crockett, Meadows added. It would be good for jobs and the local tax base, as well as for the emotional uplift from having an occupant in the facility, he said.
Meadows said Houston County Judge Erin Ford and Flint Brent, executive director of the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corp., have been very helpful in actions leading up to this point. Brent has been touring the former state school property with Serenity Place, Inc. representatives, and Ford is the person who has linked all the pieces together, Meadows said, adding, "One thing I've seen out of this is that there's a collective effort."
He said Serenity Place, Inc., representatives have touched base with Superintendent Terry Myers of the Crockett Independent School District "to see what could happen" with the district if Serenity Place, Inc., becomes a tenant of the former state school property, located across the street from CISD property and facilities.
Meadows concluded, "I'm a praying person. I trust in the Almighty. And I've been praying for some of these things to fall in place. And I just believe that this is just a part of answered prayer. The ball's in our court now. We just have to work these details out. I believe we can. I believe we can. I see a lot of pieces coming into place, and I give glory to God for it. We need hope."