The Fort Smith Board of Directors agreed Tuesday (Oct. 8) to move forward with funding a portion of the River Valley Sports Complex (RVSC).
The next steps in the project, introduced to the Board in Oct. 2011 by Sebastian County Election Commission Chairman Lee Webb and Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, will be for the city's Parks and Recreation Department to hire a civil engineer to produce construction documents for the project and having trees and stumps removed from the site so construction can commence at the site, according to Parks and Recreation Director Mike Alsup.
Following the removal of trees and stumps, Alsup said the plan is for the U.S. Army to come to the site, located at Chaffee Crossing, to conduct grading on the site in 2014 as part of a training exercise.
"The training exercise will be directed to preparing a rough site for development by leveling the area to specific grades," he wrote in a memo to the Board. "They may work through the night at times to train for night time conditions. If the project progresses as planned, the overall site will be graded; ball fields laser graded ready for irrigation, sod and infield material; building pads ready for construction of the buildings; and parking lots graded and graveled ready for pavement."
Much of the cost of the new facility, which Webb said would include eight ballfields that could be used for softball and baseball leagues for children under 12, would be funded by donations as the River Valley Sports Complex will be a non-profit organization.
The overall cost, he said, should run about $400,000 to $500,000 per ball field, or about $3.2 million to $4 million total. Of that, the city of Fort Smith will commit to using $1.6 million in funding from the sales and use tax revenue to assist in construction of the ball fields.
"It's a city facility that they lease and operate as a church league," Files said, explaining how ownership and operations of the complex would work.
In order to get the military to participate in construction, Webb said it was necessary to complete about a 50-page application document. Having now been approved, he said battalions from across the country would assist in the construction, including battalions from Illinois, Kentucky and Texas.
After Webb’s explanation, Mayor Sandy Sanders quipped, "So, if the Guard's coming from Kentucky, maybe they can just burn down the trees," a reference to a wild fire at Fort Chaffee in 2011 attributed to a Kentucky National Guard brigade that burnt more than 100 buildings and 90 acres of land at Chaffee Crossing.
A formal agreement with the military should be completed following a November meeting with eventual military construction, to last less than 90 days, to start early next year.
City Administrator Ray Gosack said the construction manager at-risk would likely be the best option for completing this project, since so much material would be donated to the complex, making competitive bidding for portions of the project difficult.
Projected expenses for the complex sit at $194,500 per year with revenues forecast at $398,360, resulting in net operating income of $203,860, Alsup said. Files said the numbers Alsup quoted from the RVSC's financial plan are very conservative, meaning revenues could be higher.
Webb said the complex should open to the public sometime in the Spring of 2015.
In other business, the Board tackled enforcement of an ordinance tabled at the Board's last meeting that would require removal and placement of residential solid waste carts and recyclables containers away from the street right-of-way and out of the front yard after collection.
The Board was informed in a memo from Gosack that the city's neighborhood services division is currently responsible for enforcement of this issue, meaning no changes would apply should the ordinance be adopted at the Board's Oct. 15 regular meeting.
During the discussion of enforcement, Director Keith Lau made a point of calling out his fellow Board members for focusing on trash instead of other issues he said were of larger importance.
Director Pam Weber said the issue was not about trash, but instead about enforcement. Lau disagreed with her assertion.
"The citizens of Fort Smith are going to think we're crazy when we bring this back up one more time," he said. "When we look, when we're not addressing our big problems and we've got some big problems – budgetary, crime, under-funded pension plans – and we're not working on that and we're sitting here telling people where they're going to put their trash cans. They're going to think we're crazy.”
Director Mike Lorenz said he did not disagree with Lau, but said the issue of enforcement was "a policy issue."
"I don't necessarily disagree, but what I see this as is this is a policy issue. We saw something in policy that could be cleaned up to make it better, and we're (doing it)," he said.
"But we're infringing on people. We're telling them what to do. We're infringing on property rights. We're telling them how to manage their house," Lau said.
The ordinance will be voted on at the Board's Oct. 15 meeting.