‘Stun­ning’ dam­age to his­toric SouthArk build­ing

Sal­vage ef­forts to con­tinue

El Dorado News-Times - - Front Page - By Madeleine Ler­oux Man­ag­ing Edi­tor

A clear, sunny Mon­day was the back­drop as crews made their way through the ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing at South Arkansas Com­mu­nity Col­lege’s west cam­pus, search­ing for sal­vage­able ma­te­rial.

The 113-year-old build­ing, known as the 1905 Ju­nior Col­lege Build­ing on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places, caught fire late Fri­day af­ter a light­ning strike hit the roof. Emer­gency crews worked through­out Fri­day night and most of Satur­day to ex­tin­guish the fire, and now col­lege of­fi­cials are try­ing to sort through the rem­nants and fo­cus on next steps.

Heath Wal­drop, co­or­di­na­tor of mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions at SouthArk, said fire crews worked un­til about 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. Satur­day to put out the fire, which had at first been con­tained, but re­peated tor­nado warn­ings early Satur­day morn­ing led emer­gency crews to seek shel­ter and gave the fire time to start back up.

But the dam­age now is more due to smoke and wa­ter. A small group of col­lege of­fi­cials, an in­sur­ance rep­re­sen­ta­tive and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Metro Dis­as­ter Ser­vices, which is help­ing with the re­cov­ery, toured the build­ing on Sun­day morn­ing, Wal­drop said, and the dam­age was star­tling to see.

“The wa­ter dam­age is re­ally what got us,” he said. “It was stun­ning.”

Wal­drop said mil­lions of gal­lons of wa­ter were used to put out the fire that then soaked through the rest of the build­ing. At one point, he said, the base­ment, which has about 8-foot high ceil­ings, was full with wa­ter that be­gan pour­ing out the side stair­cases.

The of­fice of Dr. Bar­bara Jones, SouthArk pres­i­dent, was the hard­est hit, he said, as it is sit­u­ated in a part of the build­ing that was dif­fi­cult for the fire depart­ment to reach.

“Her whole suite is trashed,” Wal­drop said.

But, he said, the dam­age could have been so much worse if it hadn’t been for a well-timed trip­ping of the alarm at the com­puter tech­nol­ogy build­ing, some­thing that is not un­com­mon in pow­er­ful storms. Be­cause the alarm went off, the po­lice re­sponded, Wal­drop said, and no­ticed the smoke com­ing off the roof of the ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing.

“If that had not hap­pened, con­sid­er­ing the weather, at the time peo­ple were not out,” Wal­drop said. “Who knows when peo­ple

would have no­ticed it?”

He pointed out the ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing’s prox­im­ity to two other cam­pus build­ings and noted that with­out the po­lice re­sponse at 10:30 p.m. Fri­day, all three build­ings could have been com­pletely lost.

“We were re­ally for­tu­nate that they saw it when they did,” Wal­drop said.

And not ev­ery­thing was de­stroyed. Wal­drop noted that some­how the fa­mous sig­na­ture of Elvis Pres­ley in the at­tic of the build­ing is still in­tact.

“We checked it (Sun­day) and it is still there. It sur­vived,” Wal­drop said. “Long live the King.”

On Mon­day, crews with Metro Dis­as­ter Ser­vices were go­ing through the build­ing and re­mov­ing items. While Wal­drop said most ev­ery­thing in the build­ing is not sal­vage­able, he noted “a sur­pris­ing amount is.” Pieces of art­work, an­tique fur­ni­ture and other wall hang­ings were be­ing taken to the gym next door to the ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing to dry out. The ma­jor­ity of cur­rent records in the build­ing were backed up dig­i­tally, he said.

Be­yond that, the next steps will de­pend on what hap­pens af­ter an in­sur­ance agent tours the prop­erty. The build­ing is in­sured through the state.

Wal­drop said the hope is to re­store the his­toric build­ing, but that will de­pend on the in­sur­ance and a dis­cus­sion with the col­lege’s board on how best to move for­ward. An­other is­sue is that be­cause the build­ing is on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places there will be other re­quire­ments to abide by in restor­ing the struc­ture.

“It looks like it is ca­pa­ble of be­ing re­stored,” Wal­drop said. “This is iconic … It is an im­por­tant build­ing in the com­mu­nity.”

In the mean­time, the roughly two dozen SouthArk em­ploy­ees who worked in the build­ing have been moved to other lo­ca­tions, wher­ever of­fi­cials could find space.

Con­trib­uted pho­tos

Ruined: The couch in the re­ceiv­ing area of the pres­i­dent’s suite in the ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing at SouthArk, ruined by wa­ter, soot and de­bris.

Re­cov­ery: On the first tour of the build­ing, fi­nance Vice Pres­i­dent Carey Tucker, far left; Pres­i­dent Dr. Bar­bara Jones, cen­ter; and Metro Dis­as­ter Ser­vices rep­re­sen­ta­tive Richard El­liot as­sess dam­age to the third floor.

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