Dirt, concrete and steel are moving – or coming down – on Fort Smith Public Schools construction projects. The most visual of the work is the somewhat iconic concrete canopy at Southside High School being demolished.
Fort Smith voters approved a 5.558 millage increase for Fort Smith public schools in 2018. The new rate is expected to raise $120.822 million, $35 million of which will go toward district-wide safety improvements.
Other noteworthy items to be funded with the millage is a new $13.724 million Career and Technology Center featuring specialized lab spaces and classrooms for courses in healthcare, information technology, and manufacturing and additions and improvements to both Northside and Southside high schools which will include new freshman academies and new gyms at both.
The SHS project will include a 12-classroom freshman center addition and new competition gym with seating for at least 2,300 and an integrated storm shelter, along with a new standalone storm shelter, cafeteria renovation, media center renovation, new administrative office addition and possible South Gym renovation with a construction budget of $35 million.
The NHS project will include a 12-classroom freshman center addition, a new secure entry that will lead to new administration offices, a new competition gym with seating for at least 2,300 plus an integrated storm shelter, cafeteria renovation and more. The construction budget for that project is $29 million.
Work began in December on the SHS storm shelter and gym projects, and Monday (Dec. 13) removal began on the concrete canopy at the school’s entrance, George Watts with Hoar Program Management (HPM) of Dallas, the project manager hired by the school district, told FSPS school board members at Monday night’s work session.
“We’re working in conjunction with the building staff to make sure noise levels, vibration and air quality is all acceptable,” Watts said, adding that the remainder of the canopy will come down Tuesday.
Dirt work began earlier in January at NHS at two parking lots in front of the school and for the school’s new shelter and gym. At Ramsey Junior High, the construction team began work Dec. 26 on a sewer line to move storm water away from the school during heavy rains and storms, Watts said.
On the safety end of the spectrum, the district has completed four new secure vestibules at elementary schools. Phases two and three of that project, which will include secure vestibules in the remaining 11 elementary schools in need of them, are in the planning stages and will be ready for students going back to school in August 2021.
Another component of increasing safety in FSPS schools is adding walls to turn the open-classroom plans of some of the elementary schools in the district into more secure and productive closed-classroom schools. Morrison Elementary, one of the schools included in that project, was remodeled over the summer, and students started the new school year in August with new traditional classroom floor plan.
Wall projects at the remaining three elementary schools — Barling, Cook and Woods — will be completed by August 2021.