A nonprofit foundation being formed by Jonathan Formanek is planning to purchase the former Walmart building at 121 E. Lee St. and use it for community organizations whether or not the Huntsville School District enters into an agreement with the non-profit foundation to use the building for a Career Technical Education Center.
“A commitment has been made,” to purchase the building, Ronna Percure, a representative of Formanek, said. If HSD turns down Formanek’s offer to sell it a portion of the building, “We will find something else. We hope too. The problem (if the school doesn’t use it for the CTE facility) is what other entity needs that square footage. We have determined a lot of needs in the city but they are all smaller square footage.”
Formanek has owned the Faubus House for more than 20 years and Percure also manages the house for him. Formanek proposed selling a portion of the building to HSD for approximately $1,000,000 for CTE classrooms. He promises to invest that sales price back into the building for other organizations in the community to use. He has also envisioned moving the Madison County Wes Fowler Library into the building.
Last May, the Huntsville School District passed 3.9-mill increase raising the district’s millage rate to 36 mills to construct and equip an activity center, construct and equip CTE classrooms at both the Huntsville and St. Paul campuses and install air-conditioning in the St. Paul and Charles H. Berry gymnasiums. The Huntsville CTE facility needs approximately 20,000 square feet. The Walmart building is approximately 35,000 square feet.
The original cost estimate for both CTE buildings on Jan. 30, 2019, was $3,788,640.
As of October 11, the estimate had increased to $4,307,905. The estimates for the Huntsville CTE facility is $2,821,215. for the building. The school does not have funding from the millage to equip the buildings, but the district does have a building fund of approximately $500,000 and is seeking donations for the equipment.
The district has spent $34,297.67 on architectural plans for the proposed new buildings.
In October, the district submitted the architectural plans to the State for approval.
At the December board meeting held Monday night at the Huntsville Intermediate School, Huntsville Superintendent Dennis Fisher stated that he had not heard from the State and didn’t know when he would hear whether or not the State has approved the plans. Thomas asked, “By the end of the year, basically?” Fisher answered, “I hope so.”
Murry Britton of the Arkansas Division of the Public School Academic and Facilities division of the Department of Education, said plans are typically approved in three to four months.
Formanek has proposed selling the district a part of the building with the conditions that the district maintain a central entryway, resurface the parking lot and fund landscaping in front of the building. He wrote in a guest editorial for The Madison County Record on Nov. 28, that “Using the former Walmart building would give the school district $1.8 million for utilities, to build additional bathrooms, offices, storage and classrooms within the space.”
The money from the purchase of the building would be invested into the building, Formanek has said.
“Any money to come from school usage, every penny would go back into the building,” Percure said. “The lawyers drew up those papers today. They have been drawn up. Walmart’s papers have been drawn up.”
Percure attended the Huntsville School Board meeting on Monday night in case any of the board members had questions concerning the building.
She said the building was closed in 2014 and it has been used for a records retention facility for the last few years. The last time a sprinkler system was inspected was in 2014 and roof repairs were also completed in 2014, Percure said. She also said no party that she knew of had completed a recent inspection.
“We think for anything to be used for, it (the building) would probably need polished up and the footprint would need to be decided upon,” Percure said.
The proposal was discussed again at the district’s school board meeting on Monday.
“We are still looking at things about the Walmart building, some ideas,” Huntsville School Board President Danny Thomas said at Monday’s meeting. “I have contacted the facilities director at the State of Arkansas. It’s a doable situation,” he said.
“The only way that we’re going to know the money that would be involved to do the CTE building in the old Walmart building would be to get an engineer, which costs money, of course, and have them take a look at it and see what it would take to renovate it to our specs or the State’s specs to do the CTE projects,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the board wants feedback from the community and that he had sought feedback recently. “The majority at this time feels like that they kind of voted for a new building. That’s kind of the direction that they are telling me. I’m not saying that that is the final answer,” he said.
“I think you were just mentioning voter intentions of what was kind of put out to the public,” HSD Board member Lenora Reidel said. “We have renderings of a beautiful new CTE building and we don’t want the public to think we’ve forgotten that.”
The board is seeking public comment. “If you have strong feeling about this, we need to hear from you, what you guys want, what your friends and family want and what you think is the best option,” Thomas said.
Thomas also said he is concerned about sharing the building.
Formanek has purposed moving the Madison County library into some of the remaining 15,000 square feet that would not be owned or used by the Huntsville School District.
“And now for the additional benefits,” Formanek wrote in his editorial. “The West Fowler Library is in desperate need of extra space. With community and foundation support, the library could double in size and provide needed space for expanded programming, books, media and group meetings,” he wrote.
However, County Judge Frank Weaver said no one had approached him about the library using the former Walmart building. The county owns and maintains the current Wes Fowler Library building.
Although the county does not control where the library is housed, Weaver said one mill of the county’s millage is dedicated to the operation of the library. That millage, which pays for salaries and expenses, is approximately $212,164. per year.
He said the library has an administrative board and currently does not pay rent for the building that it is currently housed in.
Any move, Weaver said, would have to be initiated by the library board. “I’m not sure the quorum court has the authority to tell the library where they can exist at,” Weaver said.
Asked what he would think of a move to the former Walmart building, Weaver said, “I think there’s a lot of discussion that has not been had before I can get you some concrete answers. Right now I haven’t put enough thought to give you a good answer.”
Pat Anderson, president of the Madison County Library Board, has said she just heard about the proposal recently and that as far as she knew, other members of the library board had not been approached about it. Anderson said that Staci Evans, Madison County library director, has not been approached about a possible move.
“I just don’t know whether it’s feasible or not,” Anderson said. The next Madison County Library Board meeting is scheduled for January.
Percure said if the district chooses not to use the building, the foundation would find other community groups to take advantage of the building. She said the nonprofit would apply for grants to help other community groups who might be interested in using it but that might not have the money to spend to get the building compatible for use.
One group that they hope would use the building would be Camp War Eagle which could operate an after-school program. She said they had reached out to the group to see if any interest existed. Although Percure said the group doesn’t believe enough participants would use the program, she “personally thinks there is the need.”
Percure said papers for the nonprofit’s acquisition of the building could be complete soon, possibly “by the end of December or the first of January. It’s already been written and given to the lawyers,” she said. “We hope to have something first to give to them as to whom would be included in the square footage,” she said. “We want to be able to show who would use it.”