Arkansas State Frames Jonesboro's Building Craze

Arkansas State University this year is in the midst of finishing or initiating plans for several construction projects with a total value of more than $100 million.

Using tobacco settlement dollars, donations, student fees, bonds, and state and federal funding, the Jonesboro university will pay for an overpass, new student residential buildings, and research, student and alumni centers.

"We've been working on this process for seven years," said ASU president Les Wyatt. "It's the result of a master planning and strategic planning session that looked at (ASU's) future over several decades. We realized we'd be changing the way we deliver instruction with technology; we need additional research capabilities and the facilities to support that.

"And, we wanted to expand the learning environment to where students lived not just where they were taught."

ASU's projects include:

• Student Union/Carl R. Reng Center for student services, $35.1 million.

The three-story center will total 222,000 SF, including the 90,000-SF Carl R. Reng Center addition slated to be finished in January, which will house student services. The main 132,000-SF student union's construction was completed in March and it features a dining hall, event facilities, a fitness center, bookstore and computer labs. The project's architect is Wittenberg, Delony & Davidson of Little Rock and the contractor is Building

Construction Enterprises of Kansas City, Mo.

• Biosciences/Biotechnology Building, $20.4 million

The three-story, 84,000-SF research center won't house classrooms but will be topped with a 4,000-SF research greenhouse. Construction should be complete in mid-August after beginning about 18 months ago. Unique construction materials, including Trespa panels made of high density papers, were used in construction, said Terry Carty, ASU's construction coordinator. It also has a high-tech security system that includes entry panels which identify authorized users by scanning the palms of their hands. The architect is Brackett-Krennerich & Associates of Jonesboro and the contractor is Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. of Little Rock.

• Humanities and Social Sciences Building

ASU is seeking funding from the state. AMR Architects of Little Rock and Cahoon Firm of Jonesboro have designed a roughly 128,000-SF structure and are developing cost estimates. It should run in the $18 million to $20 million range. The project's contractor is Tate General Contractors of Jonesboro.

• Caraway Road Overpass

Two train tracks running through the middle of the campus have long been an annoyance. A groundbreaking hasn't been set, but federal dollars paid for 80 percent of the design phase and Congress has approved federal funding for the construction of a pedestrian overpass. Original estimates anticipated a cost of about $16 million, but the Carter-Burgess engineering firm may be able to cut costs to between $10 million and $12 million.

• Indian Village Apartments, $15 million

A $7.5 million project on the old intramural fields south of Aggie Road to house about 100 families in 14 buildings was completed in 2003, and a $7.5 million expansion has already started. It will house 92 family-sized units in 15 buildings and is expected to be completed late next year. The project is paid for by bonds backed by student fees and rental income. It was designed by Steelman Connell Moseley of Little Rock. The contractor is Olympus Construction of Jonesboro.

• A new residence hall

ASU hopes for a mid-August groundbreaking on another as-yet unnamed student residential project that would be finished in late 2006. The 262,271-SF project is expected to cost about $18 million. It would include an 8,742-SF commons building and five 52,500-SF three-story buildings that would house 840 students in two- and four-bedroom apartment-style units. The project was designed by Brackett-Krenerich and the contractor is Baldwin & Shell.

• Cooper Alumni Center

ASU officials hope to begin construction later this year on the one-story, 21,106-SF center named after Darrel Cooper and Charlotte Pugh Cooper following their $2 million donation toward construction.

The $3 million to $5 million project has been delayed from a summer start while fundraising continues, but it's expected to be completed in late 2005. It will be located at the site of the old red-brick student pavilion on the south side of a small lake on the campus' northeast side. It will feature event and meeting rooms and key alumni and development offices. The design firm is Dale and Associates of Jackson, Miss., and the contractor is Olympus Construction Co.

Wyatt said ASU in the next decade hopes to add a new liberal arts building to replace the aged Wilson Hall, a $22 million College of Business building and a facility for nursing and health-related studies. The combined projects cost is about $50 million, Wyatt said.

Building the Town

The rest of Jonesboro is also seeing an increase in construction.

Through June 2004, 259 new construction permits with a total value of $56.51 million have been pulled at the Jonesboro Inspection Department.

The city is on pace for its biggest year of commercial construction — including offices, banks, retails stores, industrial sites, churches, banks and hospitals — since 2001, when 77 permits valued at $95.08 million were pulled.

The Mall at Turtle Creek awaits a final permit on moving a drainage ditch and should break ground in August, said Bruce Burrows, a partner in Belz Burrows Development Group, which is developing the site with David Hocker & Associates of Owensboro, Ky.

The planned 750,000-SF mall, sitting on a 73-acre site at Stadium Boulevard and Highland, is expected to cost about $100 million, provide a few hundred construction jobs, create 900 mall-related jobs, and open in September 2005, Burrows said.

A building permit has yet to be pulled. City officials recently approved tax-increment financing of as much as $20 million in bonds to pay for infrastructure improvements for the project as part of a redevelopment zone.

"As far as retail goes, it's probably the biggest project in the city (ever)," Burrows said.

Developers have nailed down commitments from anchor stores Dillard's (160,00 SF), JCPenney (85,000 SF) and Target (125,000 SF). Other tenants will include Bed Bath & Beyond, Barnes & Noble and Circuit City, and a total of about 100 stores will be located there.

Jonesboro has a regional market population of about 365,000, Burrows said, and the site will benefit from new highway projects that will bring more than half of all incoming city traffic past Turtle Creek.

City officials are less certain what will happen to the old 330,000-SF Indian Mall. It has about 30 stores and will lose its Dillard's anchor and perhaps other stores, Burrows said.

The mall is owned by Indian Partnership, which is controlled by the Warmack family and Warmack & Co. LLC of Texarkana, and the mall's fate is uncertain at this time, said Jonesboro Alderman John C. Street, a member of the city council's Finance and Administration Committee. The War-macks announced intentions about two years ago to build a new mall — Southern Hills Mall — with Glenwood Ltd. (of which Warmack family members are partners). About 140 acres at Southwest Drive and Keller Chapel Road has already been cleared.

The Warmacks are also seeking creation of two redevelopment zones from the city, but so far haven't told city officials what would be built in the zones.

Builders are also close to finishing the new 142,000-SF, two-story Central Baptist Church at 100 Cherry St. The $14 million project, which began in April 2002, will seat about 2,200 in its worship area. David Soos of Maumelle has created stained glass windows for the lobby and baptistry, said architect John McMorran of Lewis Elliott & Studer of Little Rock.

It will also have a full TV production studio, office space, a full court gym, cafeteria capable kitchen and classrooms for pre-school, kids, youth, college students and young adults. Classrooms can be converted for worship area.