Chaffee Crossing to be home of new Catholic high school, opening 2018

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 463 views 

The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) approved approximately $500,000 in property sales at the group’s monthly meeting in a series of transactions that included land for a new high school at Chaffee Crossing by 2018 and temporarily addressed the group’s Lend-A-Hand problem discussed at the August meeting.

The Board, which met Thursday (Sept. 15), kicked things off by approving a $110,000 purchase offer from Fort Smith Catholic High School. Included in the transaction are six existing buildings that will help jumpstart the school for a fall 2018 launch along with 1.8 acres in the historic barrack area and an additional five acres for future expansion.

The deal would also give Fort Smith Catholic High School a three-year option on an additional 25 acres at a price to be determined by future market values. Fort Smith Catholic High School representative Dan Smith expects renovations totaling $250,000 per building, though costs could change based on engineering reports.

“Our plan is to not stay in the barracks long term. It’s just a cheaper way to get started,” Smith said to FCRA Board members. In comments to Talk Business & Politics after the meeting, he said the purpose of the school is to give the combined 1,000 students already enrolled in Catholic elementary and junior high schools the ability to finish their secondary education in the same system.

Smith said the plan is to start with 50 10th graders and to add another 50 each year with a three-year plan to complete grades 10-12 by the 2020-21 school year.

Trinity Junior High School, he said, has approximately 70 students per grade. It is now in its 30th year of operation.

The FCRA sold 30 acres at a price of $360,000 to ERC Holdings for the purpose of single family residential developments. The land is part of a 40-acre parcel previously set aside for a required Lend-A-Hand affordable housing development.

The FCRA was tasked with developing former military property under an initiative from the Department of Defense in 2000. At that time, it was required to reserve 40 acres for affordable housing. That stipulation will still apply, Owen said in August, “but we don’t have an organization willing to do it yet.”

“If we have someone come to us, we would find them some land somewhere else. Lend-A-Hand is not wanting to do it, though,” Owen added.

The FCRA had previously reached an agreement with Rev. Ulysses Washington of the Mission United Methodist Church to release hold on 30 of 40 acres set aside for low- to moderate-income housing. The original agreement was for Washington to be deeded 10 acres for development and another 10 acres once the development was complete, up to the 40-acre maximum.

The project never got off the ground, though, and Washington has since decided to relinquish control of it. Under the new agreement, Washington will be allowed to market his original 10. Owen said at the August meeting it “made more sense from a financial standpoint” for any new buyers to negotiate separately from FCRA on the remaining 10.

Also Thursday, the FCRA Board decided unanimously to nix the extension granted to the House of Restoration church in August. FCRA Secretary/Treasurer Don Keesee said the church had failed to provide evidence of verifiable financing it had promised to the Board in August.

Tashala Devrow, the church’s pastor, was not available for comment at the meeting, but had previously renegotiated after the Board voted to deny an extension request in July. The church resurrected its funding efforts after the FCRA’s denial by reducing initial building plans from $2.8 million and securing the promise of a $1.3 million donation.

At least, it said it did.

The Board approved the extension unanimously at the August meeting on the grounds Devrow provided proof of the $1.3 million in funding by Sept. 1. But, Keesee explained, Devrow only provided an email from a lending institution confirming talks.

“There was no firm commitment at all,” he said.