Fort Smith school officials, partners break ground on Peak Innovation Center

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,059 views 

The groundbreaking ceremony held Monday (Dec. 7) for the Peak Innovation Center in Fort Smith. (photo courtesy of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith)

With the official groundbreaking completed, Fort Smith Public Schools plans to open the Peak Innovation Center for the 2021-22 school year. FSPS in partnership with University of Arkansas at Fort Smith hosted a groundbreaking for the multi-million dollar facility Monday (Dec. 7).

“This is a really exciting day and one in the making for a very long time. When I think of what this facility represents, I think about partnerships,” said Dr. Doug Brubaker, FSPS superintendent, at the groundbreaking.

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 at 5900 Painter Lane 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. Kyle Parker, president and CEO of Fort Smith-based Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, was instrumental in acquiring the building donation for the school district.

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. On June 4, the Gene Haas Foundation announced a $1 million grant for expansion of the computer integrated machine lab at the center.

“Because of community support, the Peak Innovation Center will deliver cutting-edge career and technology education for high school students across 22 regional school districts, as well as district-specific visual arts programming,” FSPS administrators have said of the center.

Students attending the center will receive a hands-on approach to career-focused curriculum and programming taught by UAFS faculty as an extension of the Western Arkansas Technical Center.

“Programming will provide students access to state-of-the-art equipment and industry exposure. Students will receive a direct connection to career opportunities in Western Arkansas, and those who successfully complete these courses have the ability to earn a competitive salary upon high school graduation and will be better prepared to thrive in college,” a press release on the ground-breaking said.

After renovations, the facility will be 160,000 square feet with the availability for future expansion on the 17 acres, the district said. Phase One learning space will be approximately 80,000 square feet with a facility and equipment investment of $20 million, according to the school district.

Phase One programs will include advanced manufacturing, information technology and healthcare sciences serve the following school districts: Alma, Arkansas Connections Academy, Arkansas Virtual Academy, Booneville, Cedarville, Charleston, County Line, Fort Smith Public Schools, Future School of Fort Smith, Greenwood, Hackett, Johnson County, Westside, Lavaca, Magazine, Mansfield, Mountainburg, Mulberry/Pleasant View, Ozark, Paris, Scranton and Van Buren.

Fort Smith-based Turn Key Construction Management is the construction manager at risk for the construction project, which has an anticipated construction cost of $8.4 million.

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