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The UA-Little Rock Benton Campus Advisory Board has passed two resolutions that it will pass on to the UA-Little Rock Board of Trustees as the academic institution decides what to do with the buildings and property in the wake of the campus’ closure.

After weeks of rumors, UA-Little Rock announced its decision in December to close the Benton campus according to a statement from Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Dr. Ann Bain.

“As a part of our institutional effectiveness planning, the university has been undergoing an extensive evaluation of our academic and nonacademic programs, including the Benton Center,” Bain said. “In recent years, the center has reflected an enrollment shift from face-to-face classes to online enrollment. Because of this trend, staffing structure and facility costs at the Benton Center no longer make operation of this extended campus economically feasible. As a result, pending UA System Board of Trustee approval, UA-Little Rock will close the Benton Center in June 2020.”

In light of the announcement, the local advisory board is keen to make sure that any locally raised funds remain as a benefit for Saline County students.

The two resolutions passed by the advisory board include:

•A request that all property and buildings associated with the UA-Little Rock Benton Campus be donated to the City of Benton for purposes deemed suitable by the city for the benefit of the entire community.

•A requests that all funds raised locally, and now on deposit with the UA-Little Rock Foundation be utilized to support higher education opportunities for Saline County students.  This includes all funds in the Building and Maintenance Fund, the Innovation Fund, and any associated scholarship funds. We request that UALR would be in contact with individuals/businesses who sponsor named scholarships, and honor their wishes.

According to Advisory Board President Wade Partridge, the board would like to see the property used for community events, youth sports, concerts and other events.

“This is a historic piece of property for the community, and as such, should belong to the City of Benton,” Partridge said. “ Likewise, the buildings could be utilized by the Benton School District, the Arkansas Innovation Hub or similar, for the benefit of the entire community.”

As for the locally raised funds, Partridge said that it is extremely important to the advisory board that those monies still be used for the higher education of Saline County residents.

“We want the community to know what we are trying to do,” Partridge said. “It was pretty unanimous that all of the members of the local UALR advisory board felt like the city was instrumental and the local community was instrumental in working with UALR to get the building and the land in the first place, so that should be returned to the city of Benton.”

Partridge said that local residents donated funds in amounts ranging from $100 to thousands of dollars in the hopes of improving existing buildings or adding new buildings to the campus. Scholarship money was also raised.

“We just feel like that money should be earmarked for Saline County students,” Partridge said. “It doesn’t even have to be for Saline County graduating seniors. It can be someone going back to school or a single mother scholarship or expanding the nursing program at Saline Memorial with UALR.”

In early December, The Saline Courier reported that the campus would close after attending a meeting of the UA-Little Rock Benton Advisory Board. Following that meeting, Bain provided a statement to the Courier that did not confirm a closure, but stated that the school was “evaluating our service to Benton and the rest of the county closely.”

Members of the advisory board stated at the meeting that they had already been told that the campus would close.

An announcement confirming the closure was sent to the The Saline Courier on Dec. 18.

According to Bain’s statement, face-to-face classes will be held in the spring 2020 semester Tuesday and Thursday and that the course offerings have been coordinated with academic units at the main campus. Students have already been informed.

“We are committed to maintaining a strong partnership with Saline County, the second highest county in Arkansas that we serve in student population,” Bain said. “Throughout the transition process, the university will engage and seek feedback from our Saline County partners, including the educational, medical and business community. This includes consideration of providing flexible classes in other locations in Saline County.”

Partridge stated that the advisory board wants to make sure that whatever decisions the board of trustees approve in their January meeting, that the funds donated for the Benton campus stay with Saline County.

“Whatever works for this community,” Partridge said. “We just feel like that we made a good faith effort on our part as a community to get them a location here where we could offer higher education services and we raised money to support that building. We raised money for scholarships and we raised money to promote it and we just want that staying in Saline County.”