The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts wants the city of Hot Springs to donate land for a new administration building, but the city does not want to continue to bear the financial burden of maintaining the buildings on the ASMSA campus.
The land for the new building is on the same plot as the former Saint Joseph hospital complex and its chapel and convent. The city purchased the complex, including 200 Whittington Ave., from St. Joseph Regional Health Center for $300,000, according to the 1992 order authorizing the purchase. The city leased the land to the school the following year. It’s been a month-to-month lease since 2004.
“During this time, the city and the school have essentially followed a gentlemen’s agreement,” City Attorney Brian Albright told Hot Springs board trustees during its May 10 business session.
According to the cost report presented at the working session, from 2017 to 2021, the City has committed $684,511 for the maintenance and operation of the hospital complex at 100 Whittington Ave. and the Academic and Administration Building at 200 Whittington, including $366,809 for two new elevators at 200 Whittington.
“What concerns us is that it’s been 30 years and we have ongoing maintenance expenses,” Mayor Pat McCabe told ASMSA Director Cory Alderdice. “We are considering trying to allow you to complete your mission, but at the same time move on to other projects as well and relieve us of ongoing maintenance expenses.”
A resolution authorizing the mayor to deed the land for the new administration building was removed from the agenda of the council’s May 3 business meeting amid unanswered questions about the school’s schedule to assume the property of 200 Whittington and leave the hospital complex. The resolution is not on the agenda for Tuesday evening’s business meeting.
Alderdice planned to present the resolution to the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees at its May 23 meeting. It is not certain that this can be put back on the agenda, even if the city council has put it back on its agenda for Tuesday evening.
“The trustees don’t like last-minute items,” he told the board, explaining that they wouldn’t agree to the land transfer without the enabling resolution.
The city donated land for the school’s $18.3 million student center at 153 Alumni Lane and the $4.7 million creativity and innovation complex at 220 Whittington. The non-binding 2010 resolution that conveyed the 2.6 acres for the student center provided that the school would vacate the hospital complex by 2012. Upon the vacancy notice, the resolution stated that the city would have six months to begin the demolition of the hospital.
“Something was expected to happen by January 1, 2012, which never materialized,” Albright told the city council. “Here we are 10 years later still grappling with the same questions.”
The demolition and reduction of the hospital complex represents one of the city’s largest unfunded liabilities, even with the $2 million the council has set aside in the general fund reserve. The 2010 cost estimate of $1.75 million more than doubled. City manager Bill Burrough said $4.5 million was the most recent estimate.
“We just can’t keep allowing this number to grow and grow, and it’s just going to get more expensive over time,” District 6 manager Steve Trusty told Alderdice. “We have to draw the line somewhere.”
The mechanical systems for the Pine and Cedar Street wings are located in the main hospital building. The faculty offices are in the Pine Street wing and the school maintenance shop is in the Cedar Street wing. Both must be moved before the hospital can descend.
Alderdice said the school could leave the hospital complex by 2024. He cannot commit to the timeline until later this year when he knows how much the school will receive in fiscal year 2023 and the $5.5 million renovation. of the chapel and the convent will be completed.
“I know the process has been longer than any of us would have liked,” he told the board. “Yesterday would be great. January 1, 2012 would have been fantastic, but we deliberately walked every step of the way and did so prioritizing so many other things as a campus to get to this point.”
Alderdice said building a capital improvement fund was one of the school’s top priorities. This is done without local property tax proceeds that other public high schools receive or student tuition and fees. The school cannot issue debt, as it has no dedicated revenue to guarantee a bond issue.
“We did it the old fashioned way, which is to economize, by allocating a portion of our annual operating budget to capital needs, which was not the school’s historical practice,” Alderdice told the council.
Carry-overs from previous years’ budgets, money from the Governor’s Discretionary Fund, and investment related to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation program provided the $5.5 million for the chapel and convent renovation and 3, $5 million for the new administration building.
Alderdice said work on the chapel and convent will be completed in August. Tenders for the construction of the administrative building will be opened in September. He said funding has yet to be secured for the maintenance shop move, which is estimated to cost $1 million.
The city recommended that the resolution in support of the transfer of land for the new administrative offices be amended to include the Academic and Administrative Building at 200 Whittington Ave. Alderdice said he could present the proposal to his council by the end of the year.
“I can definitely work towards that,” he said. “I don’t think that’s an unreasonable course to take.”