CN earmarks $25M for COVID construction projects
Tribal Councilor E.O. Smith, from left, Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. listen on Sept. 8 to CN Chief of Staff Todd Enlow describe plans for a new personal protective equipment manufacturing operation in Stilwell. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
A vacant Cherokee Nation Businesses building in Stilwell will be used for a small, mask-making operation. The venture is expected to create approximately 20 jobs, and is part of a larger $25 million construction effort by the tribe to address pandemic-related needs. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
STILWELL – During a whirlwind tour of sites across the Cherokee Nation on Sept. 8, tribal leaders broke ground on pandemic-related construction and remodeling projects totaling $25 million.
“We have an employee health clinic that we’re relocating to a new facility in Tahlequah near the complex,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said during a stop in Stilwell, where the tribe plans to convert a long-vacant Cherokee Nation Businesses building into a face mask manufacturing plant. “We just left Belfonte, where we’re doing a community center that will focus on food security, designed to store and distribute food through the pandemic.”
Using federal CARES Act funding, CN officials plan to build eight 4,000-square-foot buildings and undertake four remodeling projects as part of the tribe’s COVID-19 Respond, Recover and Rebuild plan. Efforts consist of the employee health center in Tahlequah; a drive-thru public health facility in Stilwell; PPE manufacturing sites in Hulbert and Stilwell; office space for social distancing in Catoosa and Muskogee; and storage and food outreach space in Vinita, Kansas, Belfonte and Jay.
CN leaders broke ground on nine projects on Sept. 8.
“We’ve been working on this for a couple of months now, at least, trying to determine the best use of the funds for capital improvements,” Hoskin said.
At the dormant CNB building in Stilwell, face masks will be manufactured, an endeavor that will create an estimated 20 jobs and offer the tribe “PPE security,” said tribal leaders.
“I think it’s long overdue that we’re putting this facility to work,” Tribal Councilor Canaan Duncan said. “There’s no better reason to get it going than manufacturing PPE.”
Hoskin said the Stilwell operation initially would be short-term to meet mask demand within the CN.
“But we’re going to see if it’s sustainable beyond the end of the pandemic,” he added. “We hope that it is. Part of it will depend on what the demand for domestic production is. Long term, my hope is we can sustain this and provide to the area, perhaps to other tribes, perhaps to other health care facilities.”
The CN’s plan also takes into account post-pandemic uses for the facilities. In Stilwell, a drive-thru testing site planned in the CNB building’s parking lot will eventually be converted into a tag office.
“A tag office will be tremendous for our area,” Duncan said. “Right now, folks have to drive to either Tahlequah or Sallisaw. They have to take off work because it’s not a short drive. So it’s going to allow access to tag services for everybody here in Adair County, and it’s probably going to put people to work, which is a very big deal.”
Projects must be completed by Dec. 31 to qualify for CARES Act funding.