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Landing a big one: existing facility, cultural environment help Hot Springs reel in Arkansas School of Mathematics and Science.

The anxiety level was high July 1 at the Arch Ford Education Building in Little Rock.

More than 100 people representing the seven cities trying to land the Arkansas School Mathematics and Science crowded an auditorium for the final decision.

Sweaty palms were in abundance.

About half an hour after members of a nine-member advisory board began voting, Hot Springs was a 5-4 winner over Batesville.

A second, unanimous vote made it official.

"It was like being in the second overtime of the Super Bowl," says Hot Springs Mayor Melinda Baran, a member of a citywide task force formed to attract the school.

In addition to Batesville, Hot Springs beat out Arkadelphia, Blytheville, Conway, Fayetteville and Saline County for the first statewide residential high school.

Why the Spa?

Baran says an abundance of activities and a public mass transit system played a role.

"We were able to meet not only the needs of the school but also the social needs of the students," the mayor says. "They're only in class eight hours a day. That leaves 16 hours. Hot Springs has everything to offer to make life enjoyable.

"... Our public mass transit system was the kicker. The kids are prohibited from having cars, but they must be able to get around. We have taxis, buses and trolleys."

The school will be in the former St. Joseph's Regional Health Center downtown. An estimated $1.3 million will be spent to renovate the former hospital, which has anchored a corner of Whittington Avenue for more than a century.

David Wansley, president of the Garland County Industrial Development Corp. and chairman of the city's task force, says the facility was a plus.

The city will pay $300,000 for the 16.7 acres and buildings owned by the Sisters of Mercy Health System of St. Louis. The city then will lease the property, valued at $20.7 million, to the school for $1 per year.

"Our proposal was that the school would get a facility that met current requirements and provided room to expand the program," Wansley says. "They got that for $1 a year. That's the main thing. There were a dozen other things that contributed |to the selection~ -- the fact that the city is centrally located, the fact that the facility is a self-contained complex that is safe and energy efficient, the fact that Hot Springs has a good image and a good quality of life."

Dividing The Duties

The 44-member task force was broken into four committees to work on the site proposal.

Helen Selig of the commercial real estate firm Selig & Smith Inc. chaired the finance committee, which obtained donations of $1.4 million.

Baran and Jim Randall of the Jim Randall Co., a Hot Springs insurance firm, co-chaired the site committee.

Ralph Pinkerton, president of Quapaw Technical Institute, chaired the education committee, which gathered the support of educators in the area.

Susan Alston, director of the Mid-America Museum, chaired the amenities committee, which gathered information about the recreational activities available to the students. The committee also established a mentorship program.

Hot Springs architects Bob Kempkes and Anthony Taylor also volunteered their services.

There will be an infusion of almost $1.8 million annually into the city's economy when the school opens in September 1993.

"The prestige outweighs the pure dollar impact," Wansley says. "Other projects will have more of a dollar impact, but not the prestige ... Now, it is time to roll up our sleeves and fulfill the commitments we've made."
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Title Annotation:Hot Spring, Arkansas wins bid to have school built there
Author:Webb, Kane
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 13, 1992
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