Peak Center to open in late December, roof leaks remain to be fixed

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,230 views 

Construction of Fort Smith Public School’s Peak Innovation Center is expected to be completed by Dec. 23, Shawn Shaffer, FSPS facilities supervisor told the FSPS school board Nov. 15.

“I was at the site today at Peak,” Shaffer said. “And we are currently still on track to be complete with this project by Dec. 23.”

One of the hurdles the district encountered with the center is trying to get roofing materials, Shaffer said. They had been told they would get those materials by November, but that date was pushed to April, which meant that the roof would not be completed before the start of the spring semester.

“We started looking at that, and we did find another vendor that can start bringing roofing materials in the first week of December, and we will have a new roof on both sections before school starts in January. So that is forthcoming,” Shaffer said.

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.

In July, Shaffer told the school board the center was coming in $6.6 million over budget. 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.

That total did include fixing what Shaffer described as extensive roof leaks on the building. Zena Featherston Marshall, executive director of communication and community partnerships, said the district learned of the roof issues in October 2019. 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.

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.

That 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.

FSPS has received numerous gifts and grants for the center. ABB’s Fort Smith operation (formerly Baldor Electric Co.), 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.

HOAR Program Management (HPM) of Dallas served as the project manager for the district’s millage-related construction projects until September. The HPM contract ended Sept. 30, Marshall said.

“HPM’s scope was to guide us through the Vision 2023 capital projects and because those are substantially complete, Mr. Shaffer is managing the completion of the remaining,” she said.

Though the district does not now have a need for a new capital projects consultant, MAHG Architecture Inc. of Fort Smith is working with the district on final construction administration tasks including prime contract changes and pay application certification, Marshall said.