Preserve Arkansas acting to delay demolition of St. Scholastica

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 4,241 views 

Little Rock-based Preserve Arkansas has received preliminary grant approval from a national trust to conduct an assessment of historic St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, which is set for demolition after June 1.

The $10,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation requires the Benedictine Sisters who own the iconic monastery to delay demolition and agree to an architectural assessment of the large, five-story structure.

The monastery at 1301 S. Albert Pike Ave. – near Trinity Junior High School – is the former home of the Benedictine Sisters. The Sisters announced May 10 they would begin demolition of the almost 100-year-old building that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The first part of the old monastery building on Albert Pike was built in 1923-1924 in the late Gothic Revival style of architecture. F.W. Redlich from Oklahoma City was the architect of the five-story building. An addition was built on the north side of the original building in 1929, including a chapel, gym, swimming pool and chaplain’s quarters.

But the number of Sisters declined in recent decades, leaving the large historic structure vacant and without proper maintenance and upkeep. It is estimated the building would need $15 million just to get into a condition where renovation and restoration would be possible.

Preserve Arkansas Executive Director Rachel Patton told Talk Business & Politics the grant would fund efforts to learn more about what is needed to rescue the building.

“I got confirmation last Friday from the National Trust for Historic Preservation that they would be willing to provide an emergency intervention grant to Preserve Arkansas on behalf of St. Scholastica Monastery whereby we would hire an architect to come in and do a condition assessment of the building and come up with prioritized recommendations for repair along with some cost estimates,” Patton said.

Patton said a qualified architect “could get the information they need in one full day,” and hopefully provide a detailed report in less than three months.

“Time is of the essence with efforts to stop the demolition of St. Scholastica,” Patton said, adding that she has e-mailed and left a phone message with the Sisters.

Receiving the grant and conducting the assessment hinges upon approval from the Sisters – and they have been unwavering so far in their decision to demolish the building. On May 19, community activist Ken Kupchick asked the Sisters for meeting to discuss possible interest by an out-of-state foundation to preserve the building. The Sisters were quick to note they were not interested.

“While the sisters and I understand that your actions come from a place of love, they have nevertheless decided that they have said and communicated all they can about the spiritual and economic constraints surrounding their decision,” noted the e-mail response to Kupchick. “Our prayers now are that their autonomy as an independent community of self-governing women will be respected, and that the Fort Smith community can move forward together in mourning and healing. Demolition will proceed on June 1, 2022.”

As of 6 p.m. Wednesday (May 25), the Sisters had not responded to Preserve Arkansas.

Founded in 1981, Preserve Arkansas is the only statewide nonprofit organization focused on preserving Arkansas’s architectural and cultural resources.