Board hears proposal about former Walmart

Jonathan Formanek speaks while Audra Kimball listens at Monday’s school board meeting.

The Huntsville School Board on Monday heard a proposal to use the former Walmart building for a Career and Technical Education facility, instead of building a new facility.

Jonathan Formanek has created the “See for Yourself” foundation to purchase the old Walmart, located at 121 E. Lee St. in Huntsville.

His proposal to the board was that the school district would purchase 20,000 of the 37,000 square foot building to be used for a CTE facility. The cost would be $1 million, plus the district would pay for renovations, including the repaving of the existing parking lot.

Formanek, who owns the Faubus House and is a retired architect, said the $1 million from the school district then would be used by the foundation to renovate the rest of the building for such things as a possible new library, a community center, a museum and more.

In January 2019, the estimates to build CTE facilities in Huntsville and St. Paul was $3.642 million to $3.778 million. A later estimate was $500,000 higher.

The Walmart building, built in 1980, is 37,000 square feet. The CTE building for Huntsville High School is proposed to be more than 20,000 square feet. The asking price for the building is $1.7 million, Formanek said.

Based on student surveys, St. Paul CTE will be used to teach auto body shop and certified nursing assistant classes. The Huntsville CTE will offer instruction in diesel mechanic, CNA, welding and one more area, possibly emergency response. The CNA testing also could be done locally.

According to plans for the Huntsville facility, the CTE building would be constructed near the maintenance and transportation facility off North College Street.

Originally it was to be built across a creek from that location on land the district owns.

Plans call for the new CTE building to have six classrooms,  four project labs, storage rooms, offices, overhead sectional doors, 10 total bathrooms and two outside covers.

The two sections of the Huntsville building will be 55 feet deep and  approximately 300 feet long or wide, according to principal architect H. Craig Boone.

Formanek told the board that “a renovated building suits the CTE program with greater adaptability, closer completion timing and major cost savings, sacrificing nothing that a new building might offer.”

Under Formanek’s proposal, the district would purchase 20,000 square feet of the old Walmart for $1 million. The district also would resurface the existing parking lot and “participate in the redesign and funding of the building’s front elevation, based on square footage,” according to a handout given to the board.

The $1 million “would go to the foundation to re-purpose the remainder of the building.”

Formanek said advantages of using the old Walmart include its location in the center of Huntsville, a short walk from the high school, the existing parking lot, security cameras that are in place, existing utilities, existing overhead loading doors, an existing sprinkler system and more.

Board President Danny Thomas asked several questions following Formanek’s presentation. Formanek told the board that “Walmart has kept me under a nondisclosure agreement” as for how much the foundation will pay for the building.

Interim Superintendent Audra Kimball after the meeting said, “We just appreciate his time and interest in the community.” Kimball said any decision will be made by the board.

“I know that they will review the information that was given to them,” she said.

Thomas said after the meeting that it was a positive thing to hear from Formanek.

“I think it was a really good presentation. Very much appreciate Mr. Formanek for coming and speaking to the board,” Thomas said.

“I think that was a great thing to kind of address all the board at one time, so everybody could hear the same thing. Also it being public was a good thing also,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he wants to see the old Walmart building in more detail.

“I am interested in going and seeing the inside of the building. I think there’s a lot of unknowns that I do have concerns about and we’ll just have to take this a step at a time.”

Formanek offered to take board members inside the old Walmart earlier this week.

Formanek, a retired architect who has lived in Huntsville for 25 years, said his presentation “was off script. There was much more to say, but from what I heard Danny say, they are interested in seeing the Walmart and that’s the most exciting news, to a least be an option to other options.”

Formanek told the board that the state of Arkansas allows a district to purchase or lease an existing structure, the millage increase passed by voters last May did not specifically say the CTE facilities would be new builds, Walmart is “only interested in disposing of the entire building,” and that Walmart has about 500 vacant stores, so getting the building in Huntsville donation is not an option.

The $1 million cost to the district would benefit Huntsville schools, Formanek said.

“So that helps them budget and project,” Formanek said. “Which would leave them $1.8 million for six classrooms and four labs, which I think is very doable and might even include money for equipment and desks and chairs, things that I don’t think are included in a new building.”

Formanek told the board, “My belief is that we have a black hole in the center of our community. Tonight we have the opportunity to make that black hole an exploding star, a constellation of light that goes out to the community.”

In other business Monday, Kimball reported that enrollment on Jan. 13, 2020, was down 15 students from Dec. 9, 2019, but just four students down from a year ago.

Total revenue for the district was up $38,453.24 from December 2019, while expenditures were up $108,954.

In personnel matters, Kimball announced the resignations of Laura Aynes, Johnnie Whittle and Cynthia Soto.

Transfers were Jana Beaver, Julie Mason and Calence Griffith.

New hires include Jessica Yates and Lisa Ellis. Terminations include  Richard Hendrix.

Kimball was transferred from St. Paul Principal to interim superintendent per current Superintendent Index. Bruce Dunlap was transferred from St. Paul teacher/coach to interim K-12 St. Paul principal per K-12 Principal Index, while Dennis Fisher was transferred from superintendent to assistant superintendent with no changes in salary.

The board previously voted to relieve Fisher of his superintendent’s duties and put Kimball in his job on an interim basis.

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