Fort Smith School Board rejects Peak Center contractor recommendation, revises graduation plans

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,322 views 

The Fort Smith Public Schools Board of Education went against the recommendation of the project manager for the district’s millage-related construction projects to hire a Fort Smith company as the construction manager at risk for the new career and technology center.

James Adams with Hoar Program Management (HPM) of Dallas, the project manager hired by the school district, presented an update on construction projects in the district and presented Fayetteville-based C.R. Crawford Construction as the CMAR recommendation for the Peak Innovation Project at the board’s regular meeting Monday night (June 22).

Adams said C.R. Crawford had the highest score on Hoar’s rating system for the position and impressed them the most during the interview process. The company has been involved in many FSPS projects and has worked with school districts across Arkansas, including 16 in Crawford, Sebastian and Franklin counties.

“With this being the district’s first attempt at a career technical center, we felt it best to go with someone that has recent experience in a project of a similar nature,” Adams said, noting the company had constructed the Tyson School of Innovation in Springdale.

However, board members raised concern that projects funded by a millage of Fort Smith residents were going to contractors outside of Fort Smith.

“When we started thinking about the millage, we brought up that it would benefit Fort Smith in (economic impact). It’s hard to swallow so much going to (firms) in Northwest Arkansas. It’s very disappointing,” said board member Susan McFerran.

Other members of the board agreed, and Dalton Person moved that the contract be awarded to Fort Smith-based Turn Key Construction Management, which is the construction manager at risk for the securing walls projects at Barling and Woods elementary schools and did the wall project at Morrison Elementary in 2019. It was the only Fort Smith company considered for the Peak project. The motion passed unanimously.

The project is expected to break ground this summer with completion in 2021 with anticipated construction cost of $8.4 million. The Peak Innovation Center will be a regional career and technology center with a focus on instructional strategies within the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) disciplines.

Fort Smith voters in May 2018 approved a 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 also included a new $13.724 million career and technology center, now the Peak Innovation Center, featuring specialized lab spaces and classrooms for courses in healthcare, information technology, and advanced manufacturing.

In February 2019, the estate of William Hutcheson Jr. donated the former Hutcheson shoe manufacturing building to be the Peak 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.

In January, Gov. Asa Hutchinson pledged $2.1 million in state funding from the Office of Skills Development (OSD) of the Arkansas Department of Commerce to be used for advanced manufacturing equipment for the center. It was announced in September 2019 that FSPS will receive a $1.4 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) to help build the center. June 4, the Gene Haas Foundation announced a $1 million grant for expansion of the computer integrated machine lab at the center.

The millage increase will also fund additions and improvements to Northside and Southside high schools, which will include new freshman academies, new gyms and larger cafeterias at both; security renovations at Darby and Ramsey junior high schools; and closing in classrooms with secure walls and doors at Barling, Cook, Morrison, and Woods elementary schools.

Monday, the school board also approved a $12,000 lease contract with Grand Avenue Baptist Church for use of its kitchen facilities during construction at Northside and Southside high schools cafeterias. During construction on the cafeterias, the kitchens will not be available.

Southside will be without a child nutrition kitchen for the first four months of fiscal year 2021, said Charles Warren, chief financial officer. The child nutrition serving line will be in the east safe room at the high school for this period. Northside will be without a child nutrition kitchen and serving line for the entire upcoming school year, Warren said.

By renting the facility at Grand Avenue, the district will have the needed equipment and space to prepare meals for both high schools and transport the food daily to the two campuses, he said. The lease agreement is for 12 months at $1,000 per month. Grand Avenue was chosen for its size, accessibility, location and availability. FSPS child nutrition staff plans to bring in additional equipment for storage and food prep purposes, Warren said.

In other business, FSPS Superintendent Dr. Doug Brubaker gave an update on the graduation plans for both Northside and Southside high schools. The district announced June 17 that the schools would not have traditional graduation ceremonies because of ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

At the time, the district said it was “committed to providing a memorable graduation experience for the Northside and Southside Classes of 2020 and their families and contingency plans would need to “closely approximate the look and feel of past graduation ceremonies and celebrate students’ accomplishments while meeting state requirements and otherwise promoting student safety.” Safety and logistical concerns mean the district has to look at different dates, times, location and procedures because of current restrictions.

Brubaker said the district had looked at an option using the Fort Smith Convention Center on the dates originally scheduled for graduation, July 6 (Northside) and July 7 (Southside). The plan, which was approved by the Arkansas Department of Health, would have had 45 families going through the ceremonies each hour with students receiving diplomas and able to see others who had graduated on a video monitor.

New dates have been reserved for July 16-17; Aug. 10-11; and Dec. 17-18. He said the administration would bring an alternate graduation plan to the board in the coming weeks.