FCRA committee discusses land set aside for Fort Smith Schools, denies ‘right of first refusal’ offer

by Aric Mitchell (amitchell@talkbusiness.net) 490 views 

Will Fort Smith Public Schools ever build a third high school, and if so, will it be at Chaffee Crossing? According to Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) board member Paul McCollum, “I think they’d be crazy not to.”

McCollum made that remark on Thursday (June 14) at a real estate review committee meeting while considering a proposal from Rod Coleman of ERC Create. ERC is the group behind The HUB at Providence, an $11 million “live above retail” mixed-use development in the Chaffee Crossing district of Fort Smith.

The proposal was for the right of first refusal at a price to be determined at the time of transaction for a piece of the land set aside for the school’s use. It died for lack of a second motion on Thursday as only three committee members were in attendance and committee member Janie Glover’s motion to agree to Coleman’s terms did not appeal to McCollum, who was the only other member eligible to make motions. Committee chairman Galen Hunter also was in attendance.

“I’d rather get everyone else’s input,” McCollum explained. “It’s too big of a decision for everyone to make right here. It’s a very unique situation. The school has the right to the property. I sincerely believe they will build a school there one of these days. I think they’d be crazy if they didn’t. And the reason for that being is, it’s free property. It hasn’t cost them a dime. All they’re going to be out is the expense of the school.”

FCRA adopted a resolution setting aside over 80 acres of land for the purpose of accommodating the district’s growth in January 2011. The resolution gave the district a period of 10 years to decide. Since then, the district agreed to release 15 acres for use by The Montessori School of Fort Smith, but Montessori ultimately decided to not use the land. Also, the boundaries of the original 80 acres have since been reconfigured, explaining the 80-to-71 scaleback.

Coleman’s proposal was for the right of first refusal on an 18-acre piece of the remaining 71 acres set aside for FSPS use. The school district has until Jan. 26, 2021 to make a decision on what it intends to do with the land. The piece Coleman wants encompasses the Montessori acreage. Coleman’s proposal cites single-family residential development as the planned use, but also concerns over ingress-egress issues, or the legal right to enter and exit the property, in conjunction with his other Chaffee Crossing developments. In his comments to the committee, Coleman said he hoped the school system would ultimately build on the land, but his proposal was in case they didn’t.

No representatives from the school district were in attendance. The district recently won approval of a millage increase intended to raise $120.822 million. The plan does not include money for a third high school, only a $13.724 million line item to build a new Career and Technology Center.

The last serious mention of a third high school was in December 2014 when Preston Smith, owner of Kansas City, Mo.-based Business Information Services, told FSPS school officials and a small contingent of area business leaders that Fort Smith’s two high schools — Northside and Southside — could run out of space in three years, but a new high school complex is not necessary.

“Under the current (2014) grade configurations, we believe there is adequate space to hold both the future elementary and junior high students, by redrawing some attendance boundaries. However, the high schools could run out of space as soon as three years from now. If the high school attendance lines are not redrawn, we estimate that an additional 70,000 sq. ft. of classroom space could be needed to accommodate the enrollment,” noted Smith’s report.

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