BARLING -- The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education in Fort Smith will have a grand opening and for its Celebration Garden and Wellness Park at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Jackie Krutsch, executive director of advancement at colleges, said the approximately 8-acre park at 1531 Loretta Parker Lane in Barling, allows the institution's students be both physically and mentally healthier. It also helps the school promote awareness of health, wellness, mindfulness and exercise to the community.
"It's where the rubber hits the road," Krutsch said. "It's one thing to say, 'Go be healthy, go get on your bike, go walk,' but this is our commitment to that mission. It is our commitment to the community that we believe and practice what we preach, that we believe in health and wellness, that it involves nutrition, mindfulness and movement, not just the treatment of disease. Health care is lifelong. Health care needs to be preventative."
She said the project touches all three prongs of the school's mission statement: to educate and train a diverse group of highly competent and compassionate health care professionals; create health and research support facilities; and provide healthy living environments to improve others' lives.
Lorie Robertson, director of marketing for the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, the agency that oversees the development of the Chaffee Crossing area, said the park is a nice amenity, which has been added to those already in place there.
Robertson said the park will be connected through trails to neighborhoods and other amenities at Chaffee Crossing, which will help encourage residents who live in the area to get out and exercise. The park will also give people who live outside of Chaffee Crossing an incentive to drive there and see what it has to offer. This includes the nearby Village at Heritage, a set of commercial and residential spaces the school owns.
"This is a really strong magnet, if you will, for both economic and community development, and it will be a driver for health and wellness in the area," Robertson said.
Krutsch said in January construction for the park was expected to be finished by late spring. It began in early 2021.
She attributed the delays Oct. 20 partly to supply chain issues the colleges experienced. She estimated the playground equipment for the park was delayed four times, with the equipment having the incorrect hardware once it arrived. The institution also decided to extend a walking trail from the park to the adjacent Chad Colley Boulevard during this time, rather than in the future.
Krutsch said she didn't think the pushed back schedule caused the cost of the project to go up due to inflation. The various elements of the project had already been bid out.
"Most of the vendors would've had to absorb those cost increases," she said.
Krutsch said the project had a budget of about $2.3 to $2.5 million, all of which the colleges financed through private gifts. The institution is also responsible for maintaining the park and providing security.
"As we add campus trails and amenities, that's for the benefit of the entire region, but it's not adding to anybody's tax burden," she said.
Krutsch said people were able to start using the park in July. Aside from the trail and playground area, the park includes a large pavilion furnished with audio and visual projection equipment, bathroom facilities, a labyrinth, a lake, a fountain, a bicycle repair station, a pet watering station and an arboretum with trees donated by the Fort Smith-based Sharum's Garden Center.
Teressa Brown, dean of the School of Physical Therapy, said she and Jennifer Moore, dean of its School of Occupational Therapy, provided input in the selection of accessible playground and exercise equipment.
Brown said she plans to incorporate the park into her program to help teach students. She can see the project being applied in two courses coming up in the spring and summer: Health Promotion and Wellness and Issues in Rural Health. Health Promotion and Wellness teaches how to use one's skills as a physical therapist to perform community outreach and help positively impact society.
"I could see us, one, using it as an educational opportunity, but two, eventually doing some type of community events, to try and get people here, to try and teach them about different forms of physical exercise, to try and help facilitate that engagement so that hopefully they have that little nugget of learning to take out with them at another point in time," Brown said.
Moore said occupational therapy students will use the park to learn about the need and value of making leisure and play both accessible and inclusive for everyone.
"They will use the area and playground equipment to evaluate the concepts of universal design so as graduates, they can empower and advocate for those they serve," Moore said.
Krutsch has said local architect Chasen Garrett designed the park project while the Natural Dam-based Rick Mooney Construction was the builder.
The Arkansas Colleges of Health Education offers doctorate programs in osteopathic medicine, occupational therapy and physical therapy, along with a master of science program in biomedicine.
Source: Arkansas Colleges of Health Education website