Fort Smith Directors approve John Bell Jr. Park, flood warning system

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,151 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (Jan. 18) approved the purchase of an advanced flood warning system on North 66th Street, and gave the final nod to renaming a park after artist and Fort Smith native John Bell Jr.

Because flooding over the bridge at No Name Creek on North 66th St. regularly creates conditions “that are hazardous to the life safety of the citizens of Fort Smith,” the board approved purchasing the advance warning system for flooding from High Sierra Electronics, Inc. for $136,706. The project was budgeted for the year by the Streets & Traffic Control Department.

The system will include automatic flood gates (crossing arms) and warning lights that will close the street during flooding, a memo from Matt Meeker, director of Streets & Traffic Control, said.

Besides the warning capabilities, the software that comes with the system will allow staff to monitor conditions, will archive real-time data, and will send alarms and text messages to city staff, Meeker said.

“Aside from other flood warning devices in different locations, we can put rain gauges in all the different basins in the city, and we can use the information that we gather to develop IDF (intensity-duration-frequency) curves. …It will allow us to take that data and develop our own curves specific to the city, which would improve the accuracy of our designs and improve our design altogether,” Meeker said, noting the curves the city currently uses are more than 40 years old.

In other business, the board approved naming the city’s sports fields along Riverfront Drive the John Bell Jr. Park. The park, located at 3700 Riverfront Drive near the Arkansas River and just north of downtown Fort Smith, has 51 acres with soccer fields and options for future expansion. The park also has an inclusive playground, which is nearing completion. The land for the park was purchased with private donations, a state appropriation, and city funds.

The Parks Commission voted unanimously to make a final recommendation to the board to name the park the John Bell Jr. Park during its Jan. 12.

Bell, who died in November 2013 at the age of 76 following a battle with cancer, grew up in Fort Smith and was a graduate of Northside High School in Fort Smith and the University of Arkansas. The artist had a muscle palsy and was confined to a wheelchair most of his life and had limited use of his arms and hands. Despite the disability, his artworks are in many homes, businesses and art galleries around the country. He was invited to exhibit his works at one-artist shows in many cities, including Little Rock, Memphis, New Orleans, Omaha and Washington, D.C.

Bell was commissioned to do work for numerous individuals and institutions, including the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, the University of Arkansas, First National Bank of Fort Smith, Baldor Electric Co., and Subiaco Academy. Bell’s work was also a key element in a television documentary about War Eagle Mill that was produced by Larry Foley, an Emmy Award-winning professor of journalism at the University of Arkansas.

City Director Kevin Settle said he hoped the city would have an official grand opening once the inclusive playground is completed to celebrate Bell’s life and the park.

“John recorded the history of Fort Smith in such a beautiful way in his art. I’m fortunate enough to have one of those pieces. (He was) a beautiful man. His skills and talent were just simply amazing. We’re very excited that the parks department chose to recognize John and all the amazing contributions he made to the city by illustrating Fort Smith in an amazing way,” Mayor George McGill said.