Peak Innovation Center project estimated at $6.6 million over budget

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,500 views 

Fort Smith Public Schools Peak Innovation Center is coming in $6.6 million over budget with $2.57 million of that unfunded, Shawn Shaffer, FSPS facilities supervisor told the FSPS school board Monday (July 12) night.

The anticipated final cost of the project, including phase two work with an elevator and roof replacement but not including art, is $19.076 million, about $6.6 million more than originally planned. That cost includes $18.627 million committed or budgeted funds and $450,000 in non-committed contingency funds, Shaffer said.

“This does include fixing the roof leaks because there are some extensive roof leaks out there. That roof needs to be corrected,” Shaffer said.

When asked how confident he was the $19.076 million would be the total cost, Shaffer said there always could be something unforeseen that happens, but the district has already gone over the major milestones in the project and feel the cost will be what they have now set. Total funding for the building is $16.505 million, including $13.724 from millage funds, $1.4 million from an EPA grant, and $1.38 million from phase two funding, Shaffer said. That leaves the project roughly $2.57 million over budget.

“Overall millage-wide, the program, we can actually go net neutral on each project to include this,” Shaffer said, though he did not explain how.

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 was estimated 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, now the Peak Innovation Center, featuring specialized lab spaces and classrooms for courses in healthcare, information technology, and advanced manufacturing. Education programs at the center will be available to approximately 43,000 total students from 22 regional school districts; these programs will equip career and college-bound students with real-world skills so they can secure high-paying jobs and/or pursue higher education in their chosen fields.

The master planner for the district’s millage projects originally estimated the cost of the Peak Center at $13.724 million in 2018. That cost would be for a 50,000-square-foot facility to be located in an already existing store-front building on property the district would purchase, such as the old Best Buy facility, Shaffer said.

The Peak Innovation Center is being constructed from a donated facility at the intersection of Zero Street and Painter Lane in east Fort Smith. 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 saved the district at least $3 million that had been budgeted to buy an existing building for the career center.

However, the donated building led to added expense for the total project for the district, Shaffer said. Because the building went from the planned 50,000 square feet to 61,341 square feet, the interior construction cost went up by $1.7 million, he said. The exterior envelope construction cost added $3.8 million to total cost, he added.

“We were looking at some other facilities that were already a storefront that we did not have to take the envelope, completely demo it and completely put a new face on it,” Shaffer said.

In the end the total construction cost, from what the district knows today and what they were working on in 2018, increased by roughly $6.5 million, he said.

FSPS has received numerous gifts and grants for the center. Fort Smith’s ABB, NEMA Motors Division, announced May 24 it would contribute $1 million to the project. ArcBest announced May 7 it will donate $1 million and the center’s Community Room/Maker Space 10,000-square-feet multipurpose area will be named after the Fort Smith-based shipping and logistics company. Baptist Health-Fort Smith and Mercy Fort Smith announced Feb. 8 a collaboration to invest $1 million – $500,000 each – in healthcare science programming at the center.

In January 2020, 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. In June 2020, the Gene Haas Foundation announced a $1 million grant for expansion of the computer integrated machine lab at the center. The district also sold 3.36 acres of Peak property to the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) in order to widen Highway 255 for $180,525.

While the EDA grant and the monies from the sale of the property to ARDOT went to construction costs, monies from the state and ABB are for equipment only. Of the $1 million from the Gene Haas Foundation, 70% goes to construction and 50% of the funds from Mercy and Baptist go to construction, Shaffer said. The funding from ArcBest is for the community room only, and $750,000 from the Windgate Foundation is for a visual arts program, he said. Of the $20.155 million total funding, which includes $13.724 million set aside from the millage funds for the center’s original 55,000 square-foot estimate, $16.505 million is allocated to construction, Shaffer said.

Scott Ditto with HOAR Program Management (HPM) of Dallas, the project manager for the district’s millage-related construction projects, estimated the costs a little differently at the school board meeting June 28. He said of the $22.15 million total funding, which includes the $13.724 million set aside from the millage funds for the center’s original 55,000 square-foot estimate, $17.5 million is allocated to construction.

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