Construction begins in Springdale on new facility for Children’s Safety Center

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]wabj.com) 2,551 views 

Construction of the J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Children’s Safety Center of Washington County has started.

It will be a 15,200-square-foot facility — three times larger than the current one — for Springdale nonprofit Children’s Safety Center of Washington Co. (CSC).

Center officials welcomed dozens of supporters on June 24, including Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson, for a ceremonial groundbreaking at the construction site south of Arvest Ballpark on Gene George Boulevard.

Executive Director Elizabeth Shackelford said the buildout should take 12 months. When construction is completed, CSC, which has 15 full-time employees, will relocate from its downtown address on East Emma Avenue, where it leases space from The Jones Trust.

“We hope to be moved in and up and running in September 2023,” she said.

Shackelford and other CSC officials shared the expansion news with their partner agencies in April 2021, just a day after closing a $1.8 million land purchase for the new building. Arvest Bank provided financing. According to Washington County property records, CSC paid $6.20 per square foot for 6.67 acres at 3284 Gene George Blvd.

Founded in 1997, CSC is a child-friendly, family-centered organization that serves Washington County. It assists in children’s sexual and physical abuse cases by coordinating the investigation, prosecution process and treatment services to prevent further trauma to children during the process. That involves several professional teams, including law enforcement, child protective services, victim service providers, prosecutors, medical personnel, mental health professionals and community volunteers.

Shackelford, the nonprofit’s executive director since 2009, said more space for CSC is, unfortunately, a needed next step. CSC has seen a 49% increase in children served annually over the past eight years. In 2020, the center provided services to 672 children. This year, CSC has already provided services to more than 300 children.

Besides being a much larger facility, Shackelford said a new building will be intentionally designed and built to fulfill the nonprofit’s mission. Among many design features, it will include the first specialized therapeutic playground in the region, soundproof interview rooms with 2-way mirrors, and better security for staff and clients.

Shackelford said the current space limits the amount of privacy available for sensitive conversations that must take place, and there’s not much room for training or group meetings required between law enforcement, medical professionals and others.

The new building will have meeting rooms, a conference room, therapy rooms, kitchen space and storage for donated items, a medical suite with a nurse’s area, and a community training room.

“This is our next chapter,” Shackelford said. “Hopefully, this is our next location forever.”

Baldwin & Shell Construction in Springdale is the general contractor. Bentonville firm BUF Studio, led by managing principal Ryan Faust, is leading the building’s design.

“He [Faust] has been working with us for three years,” Shackelford said. “Initially, he met with the whole staff and our partner agencies involved with these cases and [asked], ‘What do you need to do your job?’ He has incorporated everyone that’s part of the team. We’ve said all along that this is for our children, so they’ll know the community supports them.”

CSC started the quiet phase of a $12.5 million capital campaign for the project in July 2019. Shackelford said the region’s philanthropic spirit never wavered when a global pandemic altered life less than a year later.

“I knew we lived in a wonderful community,” she said. “But to be part of this has been an eye-opening experience.”

Springdale businessmen Rob Kimbel and Chris Thornton co-chair the “Healing the Future” fundraising effort. On Oct. 12, 2021, CSC announced that the J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family had made a $3 million lead gift.

J.B. Hunt and Johnelle Hunt are co-founders of J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. in Lowell and are members of the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame. J.B. Hunt died in December 2006 at age 79 after slipping and falling on ice. Johnelle Hunt, 90, is a well-known philanthropist and chairman of the development firm Hunt Ventures in Rogers.

Shackelford said the capital campaign had reached about 95% of its $12.5 million fundraising target. The groundbreaking will begin a public phase for a $15 million stretch goal.

“These children deserve this building,” Shackelford. “We don’t want to cut anything we initially planned. It’s important to have these services.”