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North Little Rock fire stations' updates on track; city envisions 5 done this year

by Jake Sandlin | February 4, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Improvements are proposed by year's end at five North Little Rock fire stations, plus the relocation of another to begin in early 2019, according to an outline of projects to be funded by the city's newest sales tax.

The fire station projects are part of a $40 million package over five years to be paid for with revenue from one-half of the 1 percentage-point city sales tax increase North Little Rock voters approved in an August special election. Other projects include a new Police and Courts Building, and street and drainage improvements citywide.

The half percent dedicated to the capital projects will expire in five years, while the other half percent is permanent to help fund city operations.

Collection of the tax began Jan. 1, but because collection and distribution of the tax revenue from the state takes about two months, the city won't receive any of the new revenue until March. The tax is in addition to a 1 percent city sales tax approved in 2000.

"For anything besides internal planning, we don't have money to pay people" yet for the proposed construction projects, said Nathan Hamilton, the city's communications director. "But we are doing a bunch of internal planning."

Assessments by the Fire Department of current and future needs for the city's 11 fire stations have determined which stations have the most immediate needs. Fire station improvements are to use $10 million of the new tax revenue over the five-year period. About $1.5 million is forecast to be spent this year.

The biggest job will be groundbreaking on a new Station No. 6 in the Levy area by early next year, according to the project report.

The old station, built in 1964 at 3500 Camp Robinson Road, had 24 deficiencies, according to an evaluation by Fire Department staff members last summer. Problems included cracked ceiling beams, crumbling concrete blocks in walls, an upstairs shower that can't be used because it floods the lower floor, plumbing leaks and roof leaks.

Station No. 6 is the city's busiest, making 2,467 runs in 2016.

The Levy station is to be "relocated nearby and rebuilt in order to provide better, modern fire protection for the area," according to the project summary. Locations are being considered and will be recommended to the North Little Rock City Council for approval.

The other stations with the most needs, according to department recommendations, are: Station No. 2, at 3700 E. Broadway; Station No. 4, at 8723 Maumelle Boulevard; Station No. 7, at 2401 McCain Blvd.; Station No. 10, at 8800 U.S. 70 East; and Station No. 11, at 9906 Baucum Pike.

Proposed street and drainage improvements will be funded with $500,000 to be allotted from the tax each year for five years to the city's four wards, in addition to current ward funding. Council members are to compile priority lists based on recommendations from the city street and engineering departments and from meetings with ward residents.

Chief City Engineer Chris Wilbourn has already met with residents from each ward, Hamilton said, with more meetings to come.

"We hope to have a final list of the projects in each ward, selected by the Council members, by the end of February or early March," Hamilton said in an email last week. "Unrelated to the North Little Rock Proud projects, the annual overlay projects (at least a half a million dollars) have been selected and just waiting on the Mayor's approval."

Mayor Joe Smith has already announced a proposal to relocate the city's 57-year-old Police and Courts Building at 200 W. Pershing Blvd. through a property swap with the North Little Rock School District.

The proposal would exchange the city building, and the school district's Administration Building at 2700 Poplar St. and the adjacent Arkansas Army National Guard's Fisher Armory at 2600 Poplar St. The school district owns both properties, although the National Guard owns the armory building and its contents.

In a work session Thursday evening, the North Little Rock School Board decided to take up Smith's proposal at its next meeting later this month. If the School Board approves the transaction, the city would next take the proposal to Maj. Gen. Mark Berry, the adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard.

A timeline for the new Police and Courts Building shows demolition of the armory beginning this summer, with groundbreaking in the spring of 2019, according to the project report. Construction would take 12-18 months, with a possible grand opening by the fall of 2020.

"We're still working on needs assessment stuff, but the big thing is waiting on the school district," Hamilton said of the Police and Courts Building progress.

Separate from the new tax, the city expects construction to start on a city-owned downtown plaza on Main Street in April.

Expected to begin that same month is a three-story building on city property near the plaza where the North Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau will relocate; along with two private companies, and a five- or six-story building behind the plaza to headquarter First Orion, a company that develops and sells software for cellphones. A 162-unit apartment development is already under construction one block off Main Street.

"All in all, we will be having the most active construction season that North Little Rock infrastructure has seen in decades," Hamilton said.

Metro on 02/04/2018

Print Headline: City fire stations' updates on track; NLR envisions 5 done this year

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