Fort Smith Board approves $1.5 million for osteopathic college

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved three items related to infrastructure improvements at the site of the planned Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The two resolutions and one ordinance have the city applying for a grant through the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration's (EDA) 2008 Disaster Relief Program for water, sewer and road improvements in the area of the college at Chaffee Crossing.

The grant is for $1.5 million, but City Administrator Ray Gosack said the grant requires matching funds from the city. The city approved matching funds of $1.5 million in an appropriations ordinance, as well as a resolution that established a memorandum of understanding that states the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District would administer any awarded grant funds.

"Shortly after the development of the college was announced, the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District began working with the U.S. Economic Development Administration to identify the possibility of federal grant funding to assist with the development of the college," Gosack explained.

"And the (EDA) is excited about the benefits that the medical college will bring to western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. So they have identified the possibility of providing $1.5 million in federal funding to assist with the development of the medical college."

The addition of the college, to be built by the Degen Foundation using funds largely acquired through the sale of Sparks Health System to Health Management Associates, will completely change the economic and health landscape in the region, Gosack said as he explained the purpose for the grants.

"As you know, this medical college will be a game changer for our region. It will improve our region's healthcare immensely. It has economic development benefits from the creation of high paying jobs, which is one of the Board of Directors' interests,” Gosack said. “That's one of the interests of the Economic Development Administration. And it will also result in economic activity from the construction work. The Degen Foundation anticipates spending at least $70 million to develop this medical college campus. So it's a very important project for the future of not only Fort Smith, but western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma."

The college expects its first class of students in the fall of 2016 should it receive accreditation.

In other business, the Board approved a resolution accepting bids for the purchase of fleet trucks and vehicles totaling $1.075 million.

Included in the fleet purchase is one CNG-based (compressed natural gas) truck and three hybrid vehicles.

In explaining the reason for only purchasing one CNG-based vehicle even though the Board has said it would like to incorporate even more into the city fleet, Gosack explained that it was somewhat cost prohibitive with no grant funding available to cover conversion kits or factory installed CNG equipment.

"We do a cost benefit analysis for a rate of return on making the investment in CNG vehicles. As you know, generally a CNG vehicle is about $9,000 more to purchase than a conventional fueled vehicle. So in order to get a return on that up front investment, the vehicle has to be driven a certain number of miles each year. And one vehicle we're recommending meets those thresholds, so it makes economic sense to purchase that vehicle as a CNG-fueled vehicle. The other vehicles do not have the mileage thresholds to warrant an increase in expense up front to fuel with CNG."

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Gosack also notified the Board that a joint meeting of the Fort Smith Board of Directors and the Sebastian County Quorum Court was likely to be called in September to discuss the hiring of an outside management company to run the Ben Geren Aquatics Center.

According to Gosack, the city and county administrations were likely to recommend hiring an outside firm to handle marketing and day-to-day management for a fee that has yet to be determined.

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