Some major changes are on the forefront for the Benton School District and Downtown Benton.
In a special meeting Monday night, the Benton School Board voted to approve completion of the district sports complex for $5,254,235, with the project to be financed by second-lien bonds and the balance in the district's existing Qualified School Construction Bonds.
In the same session, the board, after listening to recommendations from Superintendent Tony Prothro, noted that it is seriously considering the relocation of the Central Administration Office to the current main branch of First Security Bank at Market and Conway streets.
The board approved a motion "to proceed with the investigation as to whether to move forward with the First Security Bank building purchase and to obtain an appraisal of UALR, Central Office and C.W. Lewis Stadium for a trade, allowing 60 days to review."
Completing the sports complex was in the district's plans two years ago, but the annual school election altered the composition of the board and that earlier decision was overturned when new members were in place.
Board members Wade Goodwin and Joe Felan voted against the sports complex project and Goodwin also voted against the proposed administration building change.
No actual date has been set for the move of Panther football to the new facility, but Athletic Director Steve Quinn said today that "realistically this will happen during the 2013 season."
"As I understand it, we would be looking at this year being the final season at C.W. Lewis Stadium," Quinn said.
"I'm excited for the students — that they will have an opportunity to be in a state-of-the-art facility," he said. "I hope that we are able to keep the memories and traditions of C.W. Lewis stadium and carry those forward at the new facility when the move actually occurs."
Mark Vanderpool, president of First Security Bank, and other representatives of the bank attended the board meeting.
Today, Vanderpool explained how the transaction is expected to occur.
"We own a piece of property at Market and Carpenter — the old Baptist Health Clinic site, which we've owned since 2007," he said. "We would actually go down there and build a brand new facility — one that looks like our newer facilities around the state. We think it's real important from a branding standpoint to have this as a crowning jewel. This would give us the ability to build a nice new building down there."
The bank will not proceed with any construction project until the transaction with the school district is completed, he said. "We don't want to start construction till we're 100 percent sure the sale will go through. We don't need two bank buildings three blocks from each other."
The change for the bank will occur "once we get a concrete agreement," he said.
The proposed agreement includes the district depositing $1 million in earnest money. "We would not break ground until the money goes hard, which means when it's deposited.
"That's when we would break ground," he added.
"As we continue to see green lights — and we have been talking with architects — we have some conceptual plans how it would look. We're already talking to to architects how our new building would sit down there, and we will continue with those tasks.
"There's no contract to sign till Benton School District goes forward with this," he said.
"Our building appraised for $3.3 million," Vanderpool said, "and the school district can pay only $2.3 million in cash.
While contemplating that situation, he noted that a million-dollar gap exists. "We looked at what else can we do, and that's when the discussion of traded property entered the picture.
"The district would give give us the deed to the two properties, while the $1 million would sit in non-refundable escrow till the final closing happens in July 2013," he said.
The traded property being considered includes the current administration building, the old junior high building that now houses UALR-Benton Center and the alternative school, plus the parking area and C.W. Lewis Stadium.
These are what have been offered, he said.
In referring to the UALR facility and the stadium, Vanderpool noted that Mayor David Mattingly and several others are interested in seeing the UALR effort grow well beyond where it is today.
"Our company is very supportive of higher education in every community we're in. We see the the benefits of having a higher education component in the community. With Mattingly's initiative to try to get the expansion of UALR into a four-year facility, we hope to refresh the current buildings and upgrade them."
He emphasized that the bank has "no long-term interest in owning these properties if they are traded."
"We would hope that they could somehow be contributed or sold, whatever the case is, to an entity that would carry forward with the UALR initiative," he said.
"There are a lot of moving parts — a lot of things that have to fall in place," he said. "Some things are on the UALR initiative side that the mayor has to handle,' he added.
He stressed that the bank "doesn't want to be the landlord, but would be interested in seeing them in the hands of an organization that can move this effort forward, and hopefully it's UALR that's on the surface."
Additional details from the meeting will be included in a future story.