After months of focus groups, input and meetings, Fort Smith Public Schools’ career and technology center update has a new name and an architectural plan.
The Peak Innovation Center, with the tagline: Inspiring transformative learning, will allow attending students to graduate with needed skills and a career plan, Dr. Gary Udouj, director of the center, told the FSPS school board at the regular board meeting Monday (Feb 24).
“We wanted to create a distinguished name and brand for our center that would inspire stake holders and create a buzz around the region,” Udouj said.
More than 100 stake holders were involved in the naming decision making process, including students, CTE teachers, counselors, administrators, members of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, representatives from higher education, community leaders, and business representatives from advanced manufacturing, information technology and healthcare sciences.
Twenty different names were considered over six rounds of recommendations and meetings with various focus groups, Udouj said. One of the names considered, Careers Plus, was generated from students, he said. Though that name was ultimately not chosen, it will be used for the name of the district’s internship and apprenticeship program, he said.
“This isn’t just about Fort Smith schools,” Udouj said. “It is part of a regional transformation process that will provide needed skills throughout the area.”
MILLAGE, CENTER BACKGROUND
Fort Smith voters in May 2018 approved the school millage increase, 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.
The millage plan included a new $13.724 million Career and Technology Center (CTC) featuring 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 facility is set to open in 2021.
In February 2019, the estate of William L. Hutcheson Jr. donated the former Hutcheson shoe manufacturing building to be the CTC site. The 181,710-square-foot building that sits on almost 17 acres at the corner of Zero Street and Painter Lane will save the district at least $3 million that had been budgeted to buy an existing building for the career center.
There was a lot of involvement from different sectors for the design of the center’s building as well, said Eric Hortsman with Corgan Arctects of Dallas. Because Zero Street is slated for widening by the Arkansas Department of Transportation. The widening will constrict the space between the building and the highway. In order to include the necessary fire lane, one bay of the building will have to be removed, Hortsman said.
“It’s not a problem to remove that bay, but you will lose some square footage to the highway,” he said.
The center will have administration, manufacturing, technology and healthcare space on the first floor, along with shared space and a large conference room. Art space, including a gallery, will be located on the second floor. There will be 65,000 square feet for future growth that will be left unfinished, although there will be exits, Hortsman said.
“There will be a lot of very flexible spaces in this building,” he said. “You can imagine a lot of community use of this building.”
The design, which gives a more professional look to the building, has received a good bit of positive feedback, Hortsman said.
Bids for construction will be let in March with construction expected to be finished by April 2021 and the school opening in August of 2021. The center will used much like students use Western Arkansas Technical Center at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith currently, with students spending part of their day, either the first or second half of the day, at the center and the remainder of their day at their home school.
In other business, the board approved a new facilities rental agreement at the meeting. The new agreement sets guidelines and prices for groups using any of the FSPS facilities, including the schools, football fields, gyms and even the technical center.
“I think it will be a more effective way of renting not just our current facilities but the multi-use facilities that will be in place in the future.” said Bill Hollenbeck, FSPS director of security and facilities.
There has been a nominal rental fee for using facilities, the new agreement will increase the fees some, said Zena Featherston Marshall, executive director of communication and community partnerships.
“The fees are staying nominal. Where it can add up is the number of hours need for custodial help. We need to make certian to get the facilities ready to receive kids after the event,” she said.
Hollenbeck said the agreement will allow FSPS to better partner with other organizations in the community that work with children, such as the Boys and Girls Club and Boy Scouts.
“We will be able to get them connected with our resources,” he said.