Activities center location debated

Huntsville School Board President Danny Thomas (left) listens to architect Craig Boone. Ryan Noble, project estimator with C.R. Crawford, is at right.

Huntsville School District representatives and others met last week to discuss construction projects, including the location of a planned activities center.

Representatives of C.R. Crawford Construction [construction manager] in Fayetteville and Architecture Plus in Fort Smith attended the meeting, held last Thursday in the school administration building.

School Board President Danny Thomas and board member Duane Glenn attended, as did interim superintendent Audra Kimball, Huntsville High School Principal Roxanne Enix and Athletic Director Tom McCollough.

Huntsville Fire Chief Kevin Shinn attended, along with Steve Hale who works in maintenance with the school district.

The activities center will be built on land the school owns between North Gaskill and Polk streets, with Cain Avenue to the south.

Those attending decided the activities center should be built running north and south between the current practice soccer field and the back of  Meadowview Healthcare and Rehab, Boston Mountain Rural Health and Huntsville Church of Christ. The Deer Run Apartments are located just east of the area.

Other options would have required more dirt work for higher preliminary costs. Another option discussed would have put the activities center where the soccer practice field is now, but that gained little support.

Parking lots will be built to the north of the activities center, with bus parking behind the facility.

Craig Boone, principal architect with Architecture Plus, led much of the discussion Thursday.

Road access will be made to Gaskill and Polk streets. Shinn said, “For basketball we should be OK with the two and we’ll probably be OK with the these two access points.” A third outlet to the east, coming out near the CTE building and onto North College Street, would be a “very expensive project” due to elevation changes, a creek and required bridges, Boone said.

Dirt removed for the activities center will be taken to other locations in the “complex” to be used on future projects, such as baseball and softball fields.

The activities center will be 87,700 square feet, approximately 170 feet wide and 300 feet long. Boone said the floor for the activities center will be about 12 feet below grade, built in a large bowl.

A preliminary cost estimate by C.R. Crawford in Oct. 2018 was $168-$175 per square feet.

The activities center will seat about 1,800 people for athletic events. About 700 more people could be seated on the floor for graduation and other activities.

According to Jennifer Thomas, Huntsville planning director, the activities center will need about 450 parking spaces, based on the 1,800 seating capacity.

Boone had sought clarification of the location so he could finalize the designs and give them off to C.R. Crawford for a cost estimate.

Voters in May 2019 approved a 3.9-mill increase in the district to fund an activities center, two Career and Technical Education facilities and air conditioning for the St. Paul and Charles H. Berry gymnasiums.

Phil Jones of C.R. Crawford originally said the project cost for the two CTE buildings, activities building and the HVAC projects would be about $13-14 million. In November the cost had increased more than $500,000.

The new heating and air conditioning units have been completed at the two gyms.

Boone said it likely would be mid-summer before the designs for the activities center and its location will be given over to C.R. Crawford.

The future plans for the school-owned property includes new fields for football, baseball and softball. Boone said he needed direction from Huntsville people, including the school board.

“Setting the arena, we do it in a matter that does not prohibit us with future things that are going to go out in that area,” Boone said.

Thomas said, “We need to place it in a spot that we can build in the future, because there’s only so much area and so much ground available and we need to position everything in a way that we can add to in the future.”

In other news, Boone said state officials informed him that the final approval letter for the CTE building plans was due to arrive last Thursday.

That would allow C.R. Crawford to begin the bidding process for contractors.

Regarding the CTE buildings, which will be built in Huntsville and in St. Paul, Boone said, “That [approval letter] allows the bid process to start. The bidding process is a 30-day process. Then we’ll probably have at least two to three weeks of evaluation and making sure at that point in time we can present to the school board ... then that allows Crawford Construction to mobilize.”

Boone said it would probably be two months before construction could start, “by the time we cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s.”

“Everything looks good from the state side,” he said. The Arkansas Department of Health, the building authority and the fire marshal all approved the CTE building plans.

Kimball after the meeting said, “I thought it was a very productive meeting and I appreciated everyone coming together to collaborate.”

Boone after the meeting said the gathering was “excellent.”

“Really, the information we were needing we got, and so it puts us to where we’re not making guesses, so I was really pleased with the turnout, very pleased with the comments,” he said.

Thomas agreed that the meeting was a good one.

“I think it was a great meeting. Productive,” he said. “I think it was something that needed to happen today, for sure, and get moving forward. We’re trying to get everything closed up on these CTE buildings, get that taken care of. This [activities center] is just the next phase of the project.”

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