The Huntsville School District is continuing with plans to build a pair of new Career and Technical Education facilities, according to School Board President Danny Thomas.
Thomas and Steve Hale, maintenance director with Huntsville Schools, met last Wednesday with Jonathan Formanek for a tour of the former Walmart building on Lee Street.
Formanek has proposed that the school district purchase part of the building to house its CTE program, instead of constructing a new building.
Also touring the building were four electricians from Marrs Electric in Springdale, a plumber and Matt Dean with Walmart in Bentonville.
No other school board member looked at the old Walmart last week, though they were invited.
Following the tour, Thomas said, “We are not stopping our process at this moment. We’re continuing our process with the CTE buildings.”
Architecture Plus in Fort Smith has drawn plans for the CTE buildings, and construction manager C.R. Crawford in Fayetteville is close to putting out bids for the projects.
Thomas said he was scheduled to visit with state officials late last week, along with interim Superintendent Audra Kimball and Huntsville High School Principal Roxanne Enix.
The meeting was “to try and get our final approval on our curriculum when it comes to the buildings that we’re putting up, and then it goes out to bid. Hopefully we’re looking at a week away from the bid process.”
Ryan Noble, cost estimator with C.R. Crawford, has said the bidding process could take up to two months.
Kimball said on Monday that everything went well in Little Rock last week.
Kimball said the meeting was held to understand “their requirements for future funding that might be available. I wanted to make sure that we were totally in line with what they would expect.”
She said architects for the CTE buildings will resubmit plans this week with slight changes. The redrawn plans will be resubmitted to the state, “but it shouldn’t take as long. We already have the approval so at this point it should be pretty quick,” she said.
Changes include taking out two interior walls “to make spaces larger,” Kimball said. “We were able to not have to have as many garage doors. Also some changes in bathroom configurations.”
Thomas was asked last week, why – if the district is proceeding with its plans – he met to look at the old Walmart.
“In reality, curiosity and to see what there might be to offer,” he said. “There’s always further things down the road, if the school continues to grow, hopefully. Best case scenario, if we were able to afford to purchase the entire building ... but that evidently is not going to happen. To own a part ownership in a building is not a real comfortable situation.”
Formanek has said he plans to create the “See for Yourself” foundation to purchase the old Walmart. He confirmed after Wednesday’s visit to the store that his foundation has not yet purchased the building.
“We can say ‘look what we did,’ versus what you guys do with standardization,” Formanek told Thomas and Hale after the tour ended.
His proposal is that the school district would purchase 20,000 of the 37,000 square foot building to be used for a CTE facility. The cost to the school 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.
Thomas said costs to renovate the old Walmart, resurface the parking lot and other factors are “big concerns.” He said repaving the parking lot, for instance, could cost around $200,000. Formanek said the cost could be as low as $125,000.
“That’s a huge factor. That’s something that has to be addressed,” Thomas said.
“The taxpayers, the people I have talked to, have concerns and are uncomfortable with owning a piece of a building,” Thomas said. “There are a lot of unknowns. I can easily see, just by talking with electrical and plumbing guys today, I can easily see three-quarters of a million dollars in upgrades just to meet state requirements.”
When Formanek spoke to the school board recently, several community members were on hand as a show of support. His presentation drew applause from those on hand.
Formanek was asked following the tour of the building if he plans to purchase the building without a commitment from the school district to use part of the facility.
“How could I? What would I put in,” he said.
“I know the school board would love to purchase the whole thing. I think that would keep it the black hole of Huntsville.”
Formanek, who said he has worked on similar projects in other locations, added, “It could be the most exciting, dynamic interior going.”
In January 2019, the estimate to build the two CTE facilities was $3.642 million to $3.778 million. A later estimate was $500,000 higher.
The asking price for the old Walmart building is $1.7 million, Formanek said. He said he began his effort to buy the building last spring, around the same time voters approved a millage increase to pay for an activities building, the CTE facilities and new heating and cooling systems in the main gymnasiums in Huntsville and St. Paul.
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 technology 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 in Huntsville to have six classrooms, four project labs, storage rooms, offices, overhead sectional doors, 10 total bathrooms and two outside covers.
Formanek has said the new facility will have too many repetitions in classrooms, offices and such.
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.
Thomas said the location “already has 3-phase, we have a flat surface to build on. Just the best location to put the building and it kind of fits right there next to the maintenance department.” Water and sewer are at the location, as well.
The old Walmart building would need updated bathroom facilities, new security lighting systems, walls, floor drains and other renovations. Each lab in the CTE building would need drains, which would require cutting into the existing concrete floor to install pipes.
Formanek recently 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 resurface the existing parking lot and “participate in the redesign and funding of the building’s front elevation, based on square footage.”
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.
Hale told Formanek on Wednesday that state law does not permit students to walk to classes or activities off campus. They must be taken on a bus.
Formanek told the school board that “Walmart has kept me under a nondisclosure agreement” as for how much the foundation would pay for the building.