Fort Smith Public Schools will receive a $1.4 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) to help build the district’s Career Technology Center.
The grant was announced at a press conference Monday (Sept. 30) at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Fort Smith voters approved the school millage increase in 2018, the first in 31 years, raising the millage rate in Fort Smith from 36.5 mills to 42 mills. The new rate is expected to raise $120.822 million, $35 million of which will go toward district-wide safety improvements and $13.724 million earmarked for a Career and Technology Center. The facility, which should open in 2021, will feature specialized lab spaces and classrooms for courses in healthcare, information technology, and advanced manufacturing within the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) disciplines.
The former Hutcheson shoe facility, a 181,710-square-foot building that sits on almost 17 acres at the corner of Zero Street and Painter Lane in east Fort Smith, was donated to FSPS for use as the center in February by the estate of William Hutcheson Jr., saving the district at least $3 million that had been budgeted to buy an existing building. This grant will save the district even more.
“This state-of-the-art facility will connect students with opportunities in advanced manufacturing, healthcare and information technology careers with focus on engaging instruction in the … STEAM disciplines. This will lead to the retention and expansion of employment opportunities in our state,” said Dr. Doug Brubaker, FSPS superintendent.
The EDA grant, possible because the facility is located near a Tax Cuts and Jobs Act designated Opportunity Zone, will be matched with $8.53 million in local funds, funding that was already earmarked for the facility from the millage increase. Opportunity Zones were created by the act to spur investment in undercapitalized communities. According to the Tax Policy Center, 12% of US census tracts are Opportunity Zones (8,762 tracts). These zones were nominated by governors and officially designated by the US Department of the Treasury.
“Workforce development programs are vital to preparing students for the jobs of the 21st century. This funding will allow Fort Smith Public Schools to create a state-of-the-art facility that will equip Arkansas with the firsthand experience and training they need to succeed,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, who spoke at Monday’s event. “The center will develop our pipeline of skilled workers and promote strong technical education in our state.”
According to a press release on the grant, the project was made possible by efforts led by Western Arkansas Planning and Development District.