Searcy Council Decides to Do Phase II Restoration of American Legion Hut Phase in Pieces After Too High Bids | News
Searcy City Council rejected a low bid of $618,100 Tuesday night for Phase II work on the restoration of the historic American Legion Hut after bids came back higher than expected.
Architect Barry Hoffmann told council there was “a lot more planning than funding”. The project at 110 W. Race Ave. received an $80,000 historic preservation restoration grant from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, with $40,000 matching from Searcy’s Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission, according to Amy Burton, director Executive of Main Street Searcy.
Board Member Mike Chalenburg asked if the project could be split to use the funding. City Engineer Mark Lane said that could be the case if the city wanted to award the contract to different contractors, such as a plumbing contractor and a heating and air contractor.
A motion was filed to authorize “the project architect and the city engineer to negotiate with individual contractors for elements of the project not exceeding $50,000”. It was passed unanimously, Council Member Chris Howell being absent.
Hoffmann had told the board at last week’s agenda meeting that the offers were high and they would have to back out. “We received a bid from Wagner Construction for $618,100. If we take the three deductive alternatives, we only come down to $523,150.
Hoffmann said the Searcy Company was the cheapest contractor. This sent Hoffman a breakdown of the “values appendix” and he went through it and collapsed it. He said he thought particular areas of the project could be targeted “so we don’t lose our funding and we can move forward with some of it.”
Some of those areas that Hoffmann said he would offer would be for interior demolition, carpentry, drywall, plaster repair and rough plumbing. “I think if we can achieve those elements and in this project, we can consider that a plus and a success as we move forward.”
Howell asked when the building would be useful and would it have to go through all phases. “Largely,” Hoffmann said, “because at this point we wouldn’t have a heating and air system. We obviously wouldn’t have active plumbing, we’d have rough plumbing, one more times until we have a heating and air system. We’ll have updated lights and electrical. There’s still a lot to do.”
The $618,000 offer wasn’t out of place for this type of renovation, Hoffmann said. “We see new construction costing between $250 and $300 a foot, so that was a decent number, it’s just more projects than we have money for, but we’d hate to lose a grant.”
Council member Rodger Cargile asked if the city was under pressure from the grant to start something. Burton said that with the grant, everything expired based on getting the letter when to start. “We’ll be arriving about two weeks before our grant deadline which is June 1st and that gives us time to make the final payment, get their check, photos and everything to meet the preservation program deadline. Arkansas history.”
Howell asked if there were any other grants available, and Burton replied that there were and that she would continue to apply through the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. She said there are also other private donors and foundations that she is looking to on different funding sources, “even utility companies and railroads.”
In July 2020, Cargile reported to the council that the American Legion group had left the hut and gave the town $18,000 to use for rehabilitation. He said the city also received $6,000 from the Searcy Board of Realtors, bringing the total to $24,000.
“We applied for a grant from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and received the grant,” he said at the time. “It was a two-for-one matching grant. If we provide $30,000, they will give an additional $60,000, so we are short $6,000 to have $90,000 for the restoration of this building.
Cargile said Burton and White County Historical Society president Shelly Churchwell did the groundwork and wrote the grant application. The small working committee responsible for overseeing the grant project consisted of Cargile, Burton, Churchwell and Lane.
Cargile then said the roof of the hut should be “addressed” first as it was in poor condition and causing most of the problems. He also said the building “has no HVAC and no running water or plumbing.”
Cargile then said that $90,000 would be a good start but would not complete the project, so other sources of funding would be considered. He said he thinks “the city should be on the front lines to do what we can to save the building.”
Phase 1 of the project was completed in December and included putting a new roof on the building, Burton said.
“We did chimney repairs and put caps on the chimney because we had bats and water coming in and out of that chimney,” Burton said. She said repairs had also been made to some rotting soffits and facade boards. At the rear of the building, a handicap accessible ramp has been installed and a new rear door has been installed on the building.
“We painted and repaired some windows,” she said. “It was essential to repair the roof and the wood, the doors and the windows, which mainly resulted from a damaged roof which allowed water to penetrate where it did not need to be.
Burton said the building is 3,000 square feet, and Churchwell said it was built after President Franklin D. Roosevelt “announced the New Deal on public works in 1933.”
“The CWA [Civil Works Administration] has been created [as] the predecessor of WPA [Works Progress Administration], allowing federal funds to build Legion Hall with city funds and donations,” Churchwell said. “People were crowding into the court square because everyone wanted to be close to what was going on inside. There was a huge drawing. There were military dignitaries; the military band was there.
She said the Editorial Board, the Mayor’s and Marshal’s offices, and the Chamber of Commerce were located in the building in different locations, and many dance classes were held in the hut “for decades.” Driver’s license tests, the Red Cross and the historical society were also there, and “it also served as a bunk room the night before they [the soldiers] have been shipped.
In 1990, the American Legion Hut was placed on the historic register.
Burton said the long-term plan is to make the building an event venue. “The city would be able to lease it,” she said, “and hopefully generate enough to have a maintenance fund for it.”
“We’re going to keep two offices up front,” Burton said. “There has been talk of the possibility of the White County Historical Society moving back into one of those offices, maybe renting the second one. Currently, there are four offices in total. We are going to turn one into a catering kitchen and on the other side we are going to put an ADA [American Disabilities Act] a compliant restroom there and what we call a bridal room, dressing room, staging area, that sort of thing.
Burton said the building could be used for weddings or family reunions and perhaps the city could use it for retirement receptions. She said it would kind of fill a need between the Robbins Sanford Grand Hall and the Carmichael Community Center.