Less than 50% of Fort Smith millage work by value awarded to Fort Smith firms

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,951 views 

Workers in Janury completed demolition of the canopy and other structures near the front entrance of Southside Highs School. (photo provided by the Fort Smith Public School District)

About 46.2% of the money Fort Smith Public Schools is paying to contractors, architects and engineers for millage-related construction projects under contract or completed is going to Fort Smith-based firms.

According to contract totals requested by Talk Business & Politics, approximately $38.949 million has been contracted by the district to Fort Smith firms for 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.

The information provided to Talk Business & Politics by the district measured contract amounts awarded by the district to firms.

Noteworthy items to be funded with the millage is a new $13.724 million career and technology center, now the Peak Innovation Center, which will feature specialized lab spaces and classrooms for courses in art, healthcare, information technology, and manufacturing; additions and improvements to both Northside and Southside high schools which will include new freshman academies and new gyms 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.

So far, the district has allocated about $87.32 million for contractors, architects and engineers for projects either under contract, under construction or completed. Of that, $43.8 million, 51.95%, is contracted to firms in Northwest Arkansas. The remaining funds went to firms in Little Rock ($616,425), Dallas ($588,000) and Van Buren ($360,100).

Approximately $3 million is budgeted for the exterior renovation of the Peak center, which will be partially funded by a federal grant. That work will be brought to the school board for approval at a later date, FSPS officials said.

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.

“It is important to note that not all jobs had bids by Fort Smith subcontractors and sometimes bids came in much higher than other bids. Sometimes as much as $100,000 higher. We have to balance being a good steward of taxpayer money with using local businesses,” he said.

The FSPS school board went against the recommendation of the project manager – Hoar Program Management (HPM) of Dallas – for the district’s millage-related construction projects, to hire a Fort Smith company as the construction manager at risk (CMAR) for the new career and technology center. HPM recommended Fayetteville-based C.R. Crawford Construction as the CMAR for the Peak Innovation Project at the board’s regular meeting June 22. However, board members raised concerns 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.

The board awarded the $8.4 million contract to Fort Smith-based Turn Key Construction Management. The project is expected to break ground this summer with completion in 2021.

Turnkey also received CMAR contracts for two of the district’s secure wall projects — one at Barling and Woods elementary schools, which was $2 million at each school for a total of $4 million, and the one at Morrison Elementary School for $1.41 million, which was completed in August 2019. Architect for those projects were Fayetteville-based WER Architects, who was contracted $355,755 for the Barling/Woods project and $123,505 for the Morrison project. WER Architects also received the contract for the Cook Elementary School wall project at $262,004. Baldwin & Shell Construction of Springdale is contracted at the CMAR for the project with a budget of approximately $3 million.

The district still has to let contracts for CMAR for security work at some of the schools. That work has been split into four phases. Phase one (access and security vestibules at Cavanaugh, Fairview, Spradling and Sunnymede elementary schools and Ramsey Junior High) is completed with Wear Construction of Fort Smith as the general contractor ($521,665) and A+ Architecture of Fort Smith as the architect ($126,000).

Phase 2A (access and security vestibules at Bonneville, Orr, Sutton and Tilles elementary school) is under contract with Nabholz Construction Services of Rogers as the CMAR ($852,000) and A+ Architecture as the architect. A+ Architecture is also the architect firm under contract for phases 2B and three for a total on all three phases of $207,200.

Phase 2B includes access and security vestibules Carnal, Ballman, Pike and Howard elementary schools and phase three includes access and security vestibules at Beard, Euper and Trusty elementary schools.

Two of the biggest construction projects were divided among Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas firms. Conway-based Nabholz, which has a Fort Smith office, was contracted as the CMAR for the Northside High School project for $31.59 million. Contracts for architects went to MAHG Architects of Fort Smith ($927,883) and Hight Jackson Architects of Rogers ($707,079). Hawkins Weir Engineers Inc. of Van Buren was contracted as the civil engineer ($343,500).

The CMAR $35.83 million contract for Southside High School was split between Turn Key and Baldwin Shell of Springdale. Architect contracts went to Fort Smith-based Risley and Associates ($1.3 million) and Little Rock-based Lewis Architects ($616,425). The civil engineer is Mickle, Wagner, and Coleman of Fort Smith ($253,090).

Contracts for the junior high projects also was split among Fort Smith and others. Beshears Construction of Fort Smith is the contracted CMAR for the $2.63 million Ramsey Junior High project. Architect is MAHG Architects ($180,184), and Hawkins Weir is the civil engineer ($16,600). The CMAR for the $7.678 million Darby Junior High project is Nabholz with A+ Architect contracted as the architect for $794,384.

HPM’s contract as the project manager is for $4.91 million, approximately 4% of the total construction/design work for the 2018 capital improvement program projects, the district said.