Bent County commissioners met with Cassy Westmoreland, program manager of Colorado Department of Local Affairs’ Fort Lyon Program, to review a 2018-19 annual contract between the county and DOLA's Division of Housing regarding the maintenance, upkeep and management of the Fort Lyon facility, at the May 23 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners.

The officials wanted to know how activities in 2018-19 have panned out and to learn what to expect from the 2019-20 contract to be proposed later in the year.

Fort Lyon is in its sixth year as a substance abuse rehabilitation program for the homeless. Annually, a contract between Bent County and DOLA is signed to fund the program.

In 2018, commissioners signed a $2 million contract with DOLA for housekeeping of the Fort Lyon facility. The contract set a budget for maintenance and housekeeping and identified work crews the county is mandated by the contract to sponsor in concurrence with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

The contract also stipulated items such as times of operation, capital repair, damage, compliance with laws, and on site supervision/security in case of an emergency.

Fort Lyon has a long history with the military. The facility near Las Animas was used by the U.S. Army for about three decades until the 1900s, when it was repurposed as a tuberculosis sanitarium.

In 2001, the facility went through a brief stint as a minimum security prison that only lasted a decade. In 2013, Governor John Hickenlooper again repurposed the facility to be used as a substance abuse rehabilitation sanctuary.

One goal in this latest recycling of the Fort Lyon campus was to provide vocational opportunities to residents of the facility so that they could get hands-on job experience before their departure, said Westmoreland at the BOCC meeting.

Residents of Fort Lyon assist with simple grounds maintenance, like shoveling snow and raking leaves, said Westmoreland.
 
"We provide that vocational opportunity for them so when they leave they can go and get another landscaping job or get a plumbing job or whatever that may be," said Westmoreland. "It's tricky working with folks who have that kind of trauma, and so we just want to make sure that on the Bent County side folks are protected, but that residents are supported as well."

Commissioner Jean Sykes asked what sort of specific training residents of Fort Lyon receive. Westmoreland said that training is limited to general maintenance activities and doesn't delve into more complicated fields, such as electrical work or plumbing, but that more technical training is something she's looking into.

"Part of what we want to do and part of the additional grant resources and state resources that we're trying to leverage are to add capacity to do some more of that specific training," said Westmoreland.

Westmoreland said that with additional funding, Fort Lyon could bring on experienced electricians or plumbers or similar professionals, who are generally few in numbers in Las Animas, who could work alongside residents and other interested community members, which would build up expertise in the community in those fields.

When Sykes asked about the potential of Otero Junior College students being available for vocational work at the Fort Lyon campus, Westmoreland said OJC students tend to migrate to Lamar Community College when they seek out vocational training.

"There's a closer partnership with OJC right now just because the (Fort Lyon) campus is a satellite campus for OJC," said Westmoreland. "We haven't established that with LCC yet, but hopefully that will change soon."
 
Westmoreland said she had a meeting scheduled with Lamar Community College later that afternoon and that she wanted to discuss opportunities for the college's construction program at Fort Lyon.

"They can come and drywall a room," she said. "Or do some of those other hands-on things ... but also help us revive the campus without having to (deal with all the costs)."
 
The current Bent-DOLA contract is for a total of $2,299,594.29 for expenses in maintenance and operations, participant work crews, wages, equipment and like items.

The state provided $2,196,594.29, while Bent County matched $103,000 to cover local transportation expenses for Fort Lyon participants. Commissioner Kim MacDonnell is designated as the contractor in the agreement.

Westmoreland indicated the 2019-20 contract would likely resemble the current one. She said it's a unique program because DOLA doesn't have contracts with any other local entities like this one.

In phase two of the Fort Lyon program, Westmoreland said DOLA and Bent County will be looking at how to provide more vocational opportunities.

cburney@ljtdmail.com