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story.lead_photo.caption The Park Hill Fire Station in North Little Rock. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

Growing up in North Little Rock's Park Hill neighborhood, Sandra Taylor-Smith said her fellow residents felt comforted having their own fire station in the middle of the city's first planned suburban development.

"It was a big thing to have a fire department in the neighborhood for insurance purposes," said Taylor-Smith, now North Little Rock's History Commission executive director.

In a new joint effort, North Little Rock and the state are combining to try to preserve the historic structure that has been North Little Rock's Fire Station No. 5 at 3417 Magnolia St. The fire station closed about nine months ago while awaiting roof repairs.

A $50,000 Arkansas Historic Preservation Program grant, to be matched by another $50,000 from the city, is proposed to repair roof leaks and for the specialized work to the fire station's Spanish, or Mediterranean, red roof tiles. The tiles must be removed, then either those same tiles will be reinstalled, if possible, or new ones will replace them.

The city is required to provide matching funds of $25,000 to accept the grant, but is proposing an additional $25,000 if repair costs necessitate more funding. The North Little Rock City Council will be asked today to approve acceptance of the $50,000 state grant and appropriation of the city's $50,000.

Plus, there is separate legislation for the council to approve waiving formal bidding to hire Harness Roofing Inc. of Mabelvale for the specialized repair. That legislation also includes a provision to authorize an additional $125,952 be paid to Harness Roofing if more than 100 tiles must be replaced.

The city's initial cost is to be covered by the Fire Department's federal Act 833 funds, the legislation says. Act 833 is funding through the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management that is used for capital construction or improvements to fire departments, training or firefighting equipment.

"It's got several issues," Fire Chief Gerald Tucker said of the building that also prominently features fieldstone exteriors. "The roof does leak. It had been repaired before. Some of the tiles have fallen off. We're not sure if there is any wood damage underneath [the tiles]. We won't know that until the tiles are pulled.

"It's still not going to be inhabitable [for firefighters]," Tucker said. "We want to keep that building from deteriorating any more, hopefully."

Mayor Joe Smith said last week that the purpose of the repairs is that the city is "trying to save the building for history's sake."

The Park Hill Fire Department was built in 1938 as part of the Works Progress Administration program, Taylor-Smith said, along with the Park Hill Water Department at 3427 Magnolia St., now housing the city's Neighborhood Services Department. The Park Hill Fire Station and Water Company Complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, she said.

Repairing the roof is "a start to saving that building," Taylor-Smith said of the fire station.

"It's an important piece of Park Hill history," Taylor-Smith said. "Growing up in Park Hill, it was a place everybody knew and it was very comforting having that in your neighborhood. I grew up two blocks from there."

Developer Justin Matthews created Park Hill as the city's first planned suburban development and only the second major suburban development in Arkansas, Taylor-Smith said. The Heights in Little Rock was the first, she said.

Matthews opened Park Hill in 1922. It had its own fire and water departments because it wasn't part of the city. North Little Rock annexed Park Hill in 1946.

The fire station is eligible for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program grant because it "falls under the category of a contributing member of a historic district," Mandy Stanage Shoptaw, spokesman for the state Department of Arkansas Heritage, said in an email last week.

"As you can imagine, the roofing is extremely fragile and must be handled with great care," Shoptaw wrote. "Previous repairs done involved the use of adhesive to at least a section of the roof and each tile must be removed by hand, assessed for strength and viability, and stored in a secure location so that a proper number of replacement tiles can be ordered.

"There is great concern that the use of an adhesive will actually cause tiles to be damaged during the removal, but it is important to remove them to repair the decking and eliminate the current leaks that render the structure unusable," she said.

Taylor-Smith praised the amount of the state grant awarded to the city.

"It is a good grant," she said. "It's going to cost a lot of money to do what is needed to the building. It still is, even more so now, an important piece of Park Hill history."

Metro on 08/12/2019

Print Headline: Historic building due vote in North Little Rock


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  • jiminyc56
    August 12, 2019 at 3:18 p.m.

    Why not just put a regular roof on it and get rid of the expensive tiles?

  • RBBrittain
    August 17, 2019 at 1:35 p.m.

    Not historically accurate, John. Those sort of quick fixes can doom historic structures; the replacement of the old Broadway Bridge's main span in the 1970's made it much harder to justify saving the rest of the bridge when it deteriorated, thus leading to its demolition and replacement. The original Justice Building on the Capitol Grounds lost much of its character when its original aluminum wall panels with clear glass were replaced with stucco and bronze glass; perhaps they're more energy-efficient, but a proper design would have added energy efficiency while retaining the aluminum exterior finish (uniquely symbolic of Arkansas as the building was built during the heyday of bauxite mining in Central Arkansas).