Grant will fund county move to old hospital
Milam County got some big news on Feb. 19 that will help to fund the move of county offices out of downtown Cameron.
Milam County will receive a $3.77 million EDA CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to revitalize the vacant hospital complex in downtown Cameron for commercial use and as an additional COVID-19 testing and medical care site. The project, to be matched with $943,182 in local investment, is expected to create 55 jobs, retain 39 jobs, and generate $4.6 million in private investment.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration awarded $19.3 million in CARES Act Recovery Assistance grants to help the state of Texas prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.
“We will use the money to renovate the former Little River Hospital building in Cameron for county administration purposes,” Milam County Judge Steve Young said. “This is the single largest grant the county has ever received. This enables Milam County to renovate the building without local taxpayer dollars. We plan to make the building a first class facility, which will make the citizens of the county proud.”
Young shared the grant process during an interview with KMIL in Cameron on Wednesday to share the news.
“I want everyone to know how the grant happened and how important this is for the county and its employees,” he said. “The idea came about to think about moving out of downtown and into this building. It sounded like a great idea to me. The buildings we are in are older and need repair. The equally big problem is that everyone is spread out and if we could consolidate under one roof we have better coordination and we can save some money on things like electricity.”
Young said he started to think about how to make that a reality and met with the three banks to begin negotiations.
“We came up with the idea to try to swap these old buildings,” he said. “My pitch was that it is better to get something than nothing. The plan at that time was to tear the hospital building down and get something for the land.”
Young said he knows there was opposition to this plan, which he was surprised by.
After agreeing for the trade for the hospital building for the county buildings, plans began for how to fund the project.
“We had plans drawn up for the renovation,” Young said. “We did the plans and we were ready to do the funding and everything and in the middle of that I got a call from Jim Reeves, executive director of the Council of Governments. He said there may be some grant money coming for infastructure funding from the COVID funds. I wrote him a letter and laid out all the stuff we wanted to do with this building. He said I don’t know if this will work or not but go ahead with the grant.”
Young said he then contacted the Economic Development Association and they said to fill out an application.
He credited Milam County Economic Development Director Michelle Morgan for her assistance filling out the application along with the Council of Governments.
“The EDA was helpful,” he said. “They were wanting to help. We filled it out and got in all turned in. We fretted over that. We should have known something by first of December and nothing. I called in January and no response. I am thinking this doesn’t sound good. Then I called him back in February. He said I think you are going to be fine and just wait. I didn’t hear another word and then on Friday Cameron Industrial Foundation Director Ginger Watkins called and said congrats on the grant, and that is how I found out.”
The grant is $4.77 million to use pursuant to their instruction to renovate the hospital. It funds about $3.77 million and the county will have to put money the remaining 20 percent in. The county is planning to use in-kind funds through completing the parking lot and doing a few other things.
“The EDA said we can do some things for ourselves like redoing the parking lot,” he said. “The commissioners agreed to get that done themselves. We are going to build an awning in the parking lot that will have solar panels and that will be our energy source. That will be part of the in-kind funds. I have not called them to see what our next steps are. We bid this last year sometimes and we may need to rebid it for them. At the end of the day we are going to renovate the hospital and fix up the old nun’s residence next to the hospital and keep renovating the professional building for the health department.”
Young said that it may be up to a year for construction to be completed, but the county is looking to begin the work as soon as possible.