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January 2, 2013

Big Cabin School takes on new life

The Big Cabin School is taking on a new life.

The school was built in 1959, but shut down for lack of students in 1989. Grand Gateway Economic Development Authority rescued and refurbished the unused building.

Big Cabin School was given to Vinita Public School System and then donated back to the town.

“I wanted to move into the building but couldn’t finance it. I worked with the Loyal Shawnee tribe, and got funding from Cherokee Nation, who rented the school to us,” said Ed Crone of Grand Gateway. “Cherokee Nation later sold us the property.”

Grand Gateway did $500,000 worth of renovations on the building. The school then became the offices of Grand Gateway’s 110 employees.

The unwanted building is now the center for all the improvement projects being completed by Grand Gateway.

“Grand Gateway services the seven northeast counties of Oklahoma: Craig, Delaware, Mayes, Nowata, Ottawa, Rogers, and Washington. We work for all 54 cities and towns, several school districts, and tribes,” said Sarah Rankhorn who has worked for Grand Gateway for nearly 10 years.

The company defines itself as an inter-local cooperative of elected officials.

“We are essentially the employees of the 54 cities and towns, we’re just extensions of their staff,” said Crone. “Having a regional co-op of local government eliminates the need to hire people, it just makes everything run more efficiently.”

What exactly does Grand Gateway do?

Several smaller branches come under Grand Gateway, each with their own purpose.

“We have the Rural Fire Coordinator, who writes grants for volunteer firefighters, among other things. Pelivan Transit, provides transportation to five of the seven counties. They take people to doctor’s appointments and to work, as well as driving children to and from school. The Area Agency on Aging provides services to senior citizens, like helping with Medicare and Medicade paperwork,” said Rankhorn. “These are just a few, though.”

Rural Economic Action Plan, another subdivision, provides small grants. Recently, REAP was responsible for replacing the heating in White Oak School.

Grand Gateway has been in the Big Cabin School building for five years, and are ready to expand.

“We have grown quite a bit in five years. We have applied for a U.S Department of Transportation Grant which we will use to turn four existing classrooms into 16 offices. We are also building a maintenance facility with a CNG certified garage,” said Crone. “As with all of our facilities, this will be available to all government entities when they need it.”

While Grand Gateway is owned by the seven counties jointly, none of the improvement projects have cost taxpayers any money.

“Since we are a non-profit organization, we pay our own way,” said Crone. Construction for the additions is scheduled to begin July 1.

“It’s cool to see a building that nobody was using be rescued and become the center for some much great work within the community,” said Rankhorn.

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