Fort Smith Public School administrators say 65% of millage-related construction work has gone to “River Valley” businesses, but that analysis includes more than $40 million awarded to Nabholz Construction, which is a Conway-based firm.
The analysis of construction spending was provided to the Fort Smith Public Schools Board of Education at a Monday (July 13) study session. The district is in the middle of major construction projects funded by a 5.558 millage increase approved by Fort Smith voters in 2018. The new rate is expected to raise $120.822 million, $35 million of which will go toward district-wide safety improvements.
Talk Business & Politics previously reported about 46.2% of the money, approximately $38.949 million, FSPS is paying to contractors, architects and engineers for millage-related construction projects under contract or completed is going to Fort Smith-based firms. That percentage was based on numbers the district provided. So far, the district has allocated about $87.32 million for contractors, architects and engineers for projects either under contract, under construction or completed. At the time, FSPS Deputy Superintendent Dr. Terry Morawski said the percentage of money going to Fort Smith firms could be misleading because at least 50% of the subcontractors used on projects are from Fort Smith or the region.
George Watts with Hoar Program Management (HPM) of Dallas, the project manager hired by the school district, said the 65% figure he presented included construction costs from contracts to general contractors and construction managers at risk and the first tier of subcontractors. For reasons the district did not explain, Watts’ Monday night report did not include contracts for engineers or architects. The presentation also did not include a list of the “River Valley” businesses, so it is uncertain if the businesses are based in the area, or, like Nabholz, have only an office in the area.
River Valley businesses include those in Fort Smith, Barling, Van Buren, Greenwood, Alma, Hackett, Roland and Poteau, said Zena Featherston Marshall, executive director of communications and community partnerships.
Watts said Nabholz Construction Services was considered a local business because they have an office in Fort Smith. Nabholz, which has offices around Arkansas and six other states, is based in Conway, according to the Nabholz website and a corporate filing with the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office. Nabholz has about $40.12 million in millage-funded construction projects under contract.
“There has been a lot of economic impact boom to the community that is not reflected by this pie chart,” Watts said.
Board president Bill Hanesworth and board member Wade Gilkey noted that even when contracted businesses are not based in Fort Smith, they use workers who live in Fort Smith or the area and spend dollars in Fort Smith. Board members said they would like to see the economic impact the construction projects have had or will have on Fort Smith.
During the study session, the board also discussed possibilities for actions the district can take to protect students and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think during our Vision 2023 meetings, one of the main things was student safety,” Gilkey said.
Several board members voiced support for a district-wide mask mandate. Brubaker said the district was working on a mandate would be brought before the board at a later date. There was also discussion of social distancing and how that can be accomplished. Hanesworth said the situation with the pandemic is fluid and more direction could be coming from the state.