NPC board approves $15M campus plan
National Park College’s board of trustees approved a $15 million plan on Tuesday to complete the first phase of a campus expansion with intent to finalize its details within the coming months.
Trustees passed a resolution Tuesday to approve Phase I of the college’s campus expansion and master planning project. The resolution states the cost of the project is not to exceed $15 million.
The first phase will include a new student commons building on the west end of the campus, a new roadway from Mountain Pine Road, relocation of parking spaces from the central grounds to the western edge of the campus, improvements in the college and high school technical programs and interior renovations to Gerald Fisher Campus Center. Trustee Jim Hale, chairman of the board’s building and campus development committee, and architect John McMorran, with Lewis Architects Engineers in Little Rock, offered the latest details of the project Tuesday during a special called meeting in the Fisher building.
“There would be some renovations that would take place and some remodeling in this project as well,” Hale said. “So, when all of this is done, we will have more than just some new construction. We will have a comprehensive remodeling and renovation project that would give us some new opportunities for classrooms and new labs.”
Hale made a motion during the meeting to approve the resolution, which is, in practice, a concept for the planned project. The motion was seconded by trustee Mike Bush and approved by a unanimous vote of 9-0.
NPC President John Hogan said the project is integral to expanding the college’s appeal to achieve future growth. He said the project will allow the college to offer a broad appeal and put it in the best position to continue success.
“To keep student success as the center of our value is what is going to matter in our success,” Hogan said. “That’s what this board has approved today.”
Hale said the Stephens financial services firm in Little Rock advised the college could generate $12 million from refinancing current bonds. Hogan and trustees said they intend to pursue the project without pursuing a millage increase.
The college sought an increase from 0.8 mill to 2.5 mills in 2013 to construct a campus for high school and college technical programs. The measure failed by a tally of 2,899 votes against the tax increase and 1,932 votes cast in favor of the millage.
Hale said Steve Trusty, vice president for finance and administration, was comfortable with devoting $2.5 million from more than $5 million in the reserve fund and the college’s existing millage fund toward the project. Another $500,000 could be utilized from $1 million available in the college’s bookstore fund.
The 48,000 square feet planned for the learning commons complex is almost as large as the Frederick M. Dierks Center for Nursing and Health Sciences, which was completed in 2009 at a cost
of $8 million. McMorran said the cost of building the new roadway of less than half a mile from Mountain Pine Road could approach $1 million.
The first floor of the two-story commons facility would include a new location for the bookstore and a larger food court than currently in place on the first floor of the Fisher building. Hale said the open spaces for student gathering and study areas are twice as large as similar space in the Dierks building.
The ground floor will also include two flexible, conference-sized classrooms for about 120 seats each. Movable walls will allow for the rooms to be joined for large events, but will not include tiered seating as is available in the Dr. Martin Eisele Auditorium inside Dierks.
The second floor will feature two more large classrooms and more than 40 projected offices for student services. The commons is planned as a “one-stop shop” for student needs.
Trustees approved a resolution last week to engage Hill and Cox Construction as the college’s construction manager contingent upon approval of the Arkansas Legislative Council in September. The college’s agreements with Hill and Cox, Lewis and Stephens, as bond underwriter, are contingent upon state approval of the final project. Hale said the college has had success with all three partners in previous projects.
Designs for the new building and roadway will be finalized in the coming months, which will allow Hill and Cox to obtain bids for the project. State approval could be obtained by the January meeting of the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Hale said construction is expected to take at least 16-18 months. The college plans to complete the commons project by August 2019 for the fall semester of the 2019-20 academic year.
Renovations to the Fisher building would allow the Innovative Technologies Center to relocate from an off-campus site on Albert Pike Road to the space vacated by the bookstore. The college’s hospitality program would be able to relocate to the current food court.
Half the second and third floors would remain as office space, but the other half could be renovated into four large classrooms in addition to the flexible classrooms in the commons.
Some parking will remain in the central area of the campus after Phase I. McMorran said the long-term plan is to create a safer, pedestrian-friendly plaza in the center of campus with a number of walkways and green space more akin to a university campus.
Hale said the college plans to examine the feasibility of new construction, renovations and equipment needs for the technical programs in the spring. He said Phase I could include a new technical facility near the new roadway.
“We are feeling some strategic uncertainty about optimizing our opportunity to invest in that building plan,” Hogan said. “For example, are the things we are offering now in the National Park Technology Center, how relevant are those going to be in terms of producing work and producing wealth five years from now? Ten years from now?
“We have some fundamental questions to answer before we could say, ‘Here is our game plan with respect to some of the facility questions that are left from Quapaw (Technical Institute facilities).’”
Chairman Forrest Spicher said the college is the solution to helping Garland County improve its average household income. The college currently ranks last among the 10 most populous counties in Arkansas.
“The intermediate step is student success,” Spicher said. “We want them to stay here, work, have a productive life and make a good living. It doesn’t matter what their trade is or what their occupation or career is. In the end, this project and the ones that will follow will make a difference in this community and we will see more economic opportunity.”
CAMPUS DEVELOPMENT: National Park College trustee Jim Hale, chairman of the board of trustees’ building and campus development committee, presented the latest plans for the college’s proposed capital project. The college could break ground on the project by February or March.