It’s amazing what $76 million worth of state-of-the-art facilities can do for a community.
Just this year in El Dorado, three new projects were completed and opened, and just like that, the community has been infused with a new sense of civic pride.
The new $49 million El Dorado High School, the $18 million El Dorado Conference Center and the $9 million Health Science Center at South Arkansas Community College represent El Dorado’s commitment to the future.
That big-picture vision has earned the city recognition as an Arkansas Business City of Distinction in the Quality of Life category.
The new 50,000-SF, state-of-the-art conference center, which opened in February, represents a unique venture between the city, SouthArk and Murphy Oil. The flagship project of a 2007 ballot initiative known as El Dorado Forward, the center was enhanced by a $5 million contribution from Murphy intended to help it exceed expectations in terms of design and utility. A solid consensus exists that it has.
The center is used jointly by the city and college. SouthArk leases the center, located just
across West Avenue from the main campus, in exchange for an operating and maintenance agreement. SouthArk’s student services department, a bookstore and a café are located there. The center, however, also serves a civic purpose, hosting numerous conferences, meetings and other functions.
The new high school opened this year on 62 acres on the city’s west side. It is 321,000 total square feet, includes a 29,000-SF performing arts center, a 450-seat acoustically tuned performance hall, a science wing with 13 labs, a 2,200-seat arena equipped for tournament and even college use plus an auxiliary gym enabling the school to host two sporting events at once.
The “Octunda,” a sky-lit focal point, features a new media center, new administrative offices and new cafeteria.
Local accountant and civic leader Alan Gober said education is clearly a focus of city leaders.
“This new high school campus is a priority project in terms of attracting young families by providing the most basic essentials to a good quality of life – public education,” he said.
The El Dorado School District raised private funds to upgrade Memorial Stadium with the addition of an artificial playing surface and state-of-the-art video scoreboard. Memorial Stadium is the home of El Dorado Wildcat football and site each year of the Boomtown Football Classic pitting local NCAA Division II archrivals Southern Arkansas and Arkansas-Monticello.
SouthArk’s Health Science Center represents further commitment to that vision. It includes a lecture hall, operating-room suite, physical therapy assistant’s lab, simulation room, mock ambulance for the school’s paramedic program, two computer labs and an occupational-therapy lab.
Private donations funded the center’s construction. Gober said SouthArk is a vital part of the community’s
success, providing workforce development opportunities and serving as a valued employer. In
addition, the college hosts a lecture series featuring nationally renowned speakers.
“These community services as well as educational opportunities play a pivotal role in affording a quality of life that people want and expect today,” Gober said.
But that’s not all. El Dorado’s MusicFest is growing into a regional destination. Gober said events such as it and the Boomtown Classic distinguish El Dorado from other cities, especially those its size. A nonprofit group, El Dorado Festivals and Events, was created earlier this year to “facilitate the development of performing arts as a viable economic and cultural engine for the community.”
“It’s showtime in El Dorado,” Gober said.
Also this year, the El Dorado Economic Development Board committed $250,000 for the enhancement of local parks, including a new field for the Miracle League, which allows physically challenged kids the chance to play softball.
The South Arkansas Arboretum received some love as well, specifically a new pavilion and butterfly garden.
And, of course, there’s the nationally renowned El Dorado Promise, still going strong.
Funded by Murphy Oil beginning in 2007, the Promise provides a full college ride to every graduate of EDHS. Graduates receive a full scholarship, up to the highest annual resident tuition at a public university in Arkansas, which can be applied for tuition and mandatory fees at any accredited two- or four-year college in the U.S.
Gober believes all these things truly set El Dorado apart.
“The city has weathered many economic challenges over the last few years, but still stands tall as the economic, cultural, educational and recreational hub of this region,” he said.