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James L. White/Staff

A canopy above an exterior door at the old Harrison junior high building recalls a time when there was a junior high school in the district.

The vacated former Harrison Junior High School campus might be purchased by the city. The city council’s Community Environment Services and Welfare Committee heard about the proposal Thursday night and forwarded it to the full council for consideration when it meets next week.

Mayor Jerry Jackson gave the committee some background information about the plan.

He said soon after the vote for a sales tax to build a new community center failed, city officials met on how to proceed. The number one reason the initiative failed was its price. The officials said a scaled down version was needed.

They looked at the former junior high school area and felt some things could be done there for a much lower price. They liked the location as it is contiguous with city-owned property including the city’s parks, the Brandon Burlsworth Youth Center, swimming pool, the large parking lot, basketball and tennis courts and the trail south along Crooked Creek leading to the city’s soccer complex. It would also be a boost to the downtown’s economic development. But when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived those plans were put on hold.

Over the summer interest in the property was renewed when Johnny Morris of Bass Pro Shops announced his purchasing of the former Dogpatch USA property just eight miles down state Highway 7.

Parks director Chuck Eddington was asked if he could use the junior high property and he said he could put it to use right away as social distancing and other protocols for the pandemic had reduced the number of participants that could be registered in the city’s youth recreation program.

Jackson said he has also been working with veterans groups looking for a facility where veterans services could be obtained under one roof. The 1942 armory building that was the junior high school cafeteria would meet the veterans’ needs.

Matt Russell, commander of the Boone County Disabled American Veterans and president of the Jack Williams Veteran Resource Center Board, was present Thursday night and he said the building would be acceptable, not only for veterans' purposes, but that it would also be made available as a community center open for use by other groups.

Once the city relocates its offices, police department and fire department headquarters to the new city hall building now under construction on Industrial Park Road, a new downtown fire station will be needed. A good location for it would be where the school’s band hall now sits, according to Fire Chief Marc Lowery.

Jackson said he and Wade Phillips, the city’s chief of operations, met with Harrison School Superintendent Dr. Stewart Pratt to discuss the possibilities. The school district has been unable to sell the property that was priced at the market value of $1.8 million. The state education department requires the school district to maintain the facilities for student use so it has been continuing to pay for maintenance, utilities and insurance.

Council member Mitch Magness, who also serves on the Harrison School Board, said he would abstain from voting on the matter, but would give the council some input by providing information. Pratt was also present Thursday to provide information. Both men said the school district is free to sell the property and it is under no restrictions set by the education department such as securing bids.

Pratt gave a report on the condition of the buildings noting that the roofs on the old gym and on the classroom addition built in the 1990s are rated A grade. The cafeteria and the field house are in good condition.

What should be demolished is the original 1951 high school building where the roof is in bad shape and there is an abundance of asbestos, Phillips said. He said it would cost $350,000 to have it removed.

Jackson said that a price agreement has been reached and a contract was drafted for the committee and the council to consider.

Also included is a memorandum of understanding that describes the use of the junior high building and free use of a baseball field at the Equity Bank Sports Complex by the school district for five years. It also allows the school the continued use of the football building and practice areas on the property for five years.

The contract sets the purchase price for the property at $50,000 cash.

(2) comments

Old Arkie

Appraised value $1,800,000

Fee to demolish unusable part: $350,000

Purchase price by City: $50,000

Total loss to Harrison School District: $1,400,000

Am I missing something here?

Is there a clause in the School Board's mandate that says they may arbitrarily gift the District's property at their discretion?

Shades of North Arkansas College!

Seems as though it didn't cost NEARLY as much to refurbish that complex as taxpayers were lead to believe! Crockett seems happy with his purchase.

Something about Republican officials and the truth that just aren't compatible.

Jo McEntire

This is awesome! There are plenty of grants available that could help with costs.

Welcome to the discussion.

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