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70 housing units set at site of old Southeast Middle, High School

by Eplunus Colvin | January 25, 2023 at 3:32 a.m.
The gym and other buildings are shown at the site of the old Southeast School. Demolition began on the property this week but alumni will propose a plan to spare the gym. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Eplunus Colvin)

The city of Pine Bluff's project coordinator, William Fells, gave an update to the much-anticipated housing project that will occupy the former site of Southeast Middle School and High School at 2001 S. Ohio St., a vision of Pine Bluff's Mayor Shirley Washington.

According to Fells, representatives of the mayor's office met with the developers, SE Clark and Associates, the Housing Authority, engineers and the Community Development team on Friday.

"First and foremost, the team has committed to a plan to develop six acres within the southeast property as part of a Phase I development," Fells said. "It will consist of 70 multifamily units rather than single-family units."

According to Fells, this will allow flood mitigation and overall construction to be more affordable.

When the property was first acquired, the original plan was to feature 96 affordable homes on 29 acres. In December, the Pine Bluff City Council voted 8-0 to approve a contract for $664,100 to demolish the school buildings. Dirt work estimates for the project were also mentioned during several City Council meetings with an estimated amount of $1.5 million. Funding for the demolition came from the city's American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The layout for the development showed the site plan as well as floor plans for the units, which feature multifamily stacked flats. Six units will house 1-bedroom flats, 46 units will house 2-bedroom flats, and 18 units will house 3-bedroom flats.

"In the future, we hope to continue working with our partners to develop the rest of the site or another section as part of a Phase II development," Fells said.

In terms of the next steps for Phase I, Fells said the developer intends to apply to the Arkansas Development Finance Authority by March 6 for construction funds.

"At that time, they will need to have a title commitment and site control agreement from the city," Fells said. "In order to facilitate this, Inspection and Zoning are working to arrange a special called Planning Commission meeting for Feb. 13."

In this meeting, Fells said the commission will vote on the new six acres as well as a measure to rezone the land for multifamily use. If the six acres and rezoning are approved, the Development and Planning Commission will review an ordinance sending the commission's decision to the full council for approval.

"We hope to submit a site control agreement to the committee at that time as well, granting the developer control of the six acres," said Fells, who added that the city will be working with the city attorney's office to draft that agreement. "We are also working with an engineering firm to prepare an RFP (request for proposal) for the dirt work that can mitigate the floodplain, which will allow us to bid it out and receive exact cost estimates."

Mitigation work will have to be approved by the City Council, and Fells plans to have more details after the engineer completes a survey for the site, which will provide them with information such as where the dirt should be placed and the quantity that will be needed.

Several graduates of the school were against the demolition and asked the mayor if part of the school could be saved and whether a marker could be placed in the area detailing vital school information. They also asked if the gym could at least remain.

Alumni of Southeast Middle and High School were given a chance by Washington to present a plan of action to save the gym. According to Fells, the new housing development will be called "Southeast Estates."

"This is a special name that was selected by our team," he said, "to honor Southeast School and the wonderful alumni who attended."

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