Permit issued, demolition to begin by July 1 on St. Scholastica Monastery

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,885 views 

A permit was issued Tuesday (June 21) by the city of Fort Smith to Catoosa, Okla.-based DT Specialized Services for the demolition of the historic St. Scholastica Monastery. Demolition of the 82,000-square-foot building could begin by July 1.

The monastery at 1301 S. Albert Pike Ave. – near Trinity Junior High School – is the former home of the Benedictine Sisters. The Sisters announced on May 10 their intention to demolish 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.

In announcing plans to demolish the building, the Sisters initially said they exhausted all possible efforts to find developers willing to renovate the property. However, numerous individuals, nonprofits and state agencies came forth after the May 10 announcement asking the Sisters to delay demolition and give them a chance to pursue other options.

Al Rajabi, CEO of Sky Capital Group, which renovated the historic Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa in Hot Springs, said it would be financially feasible to repurpose the monastery.

“I can personally attest that many developers like myself are interested and could create residual income for decades for the nuns. They could simply lease the property long-term to a developer who will abide by their wishes and ideas for repurposing the building,” Rajabi said in a June 3 note.

The Sisters also declined requests by Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, Rachel Patton, executive director of Preserve Arkansas, Fort Smith Mayor George McGill, and community activist Ken Kupchick to stall demolition until a plan could be developed to save the structure.

Jimmie Deer, director of building services for the city of Fort Smith, told Talk Business & Politics the $875 permit – with the permit value based on square footage – was issued Tuesday with DT saying the work would take about two months.

Kyle Conrad, DT project manager, said the work will take about 60 working days with 2-5 workers on-site during the process. He said asbestos has already been removed by another company directly contracted by the Sisters. Conrad said DT has not received outside requests to salvage any of the materials, but they are salvaging several items for the Sisters.