Community center asks school board to donate facility

Thursday, July 15, 2021

The Eureka Springs Community Center Foundation is hoping to take full ownership of its property in the near future.

On Monday night, foundation representatives gave a presentation to the Eureka Springs School Board, asking the board to donate the old high school campus to the community center. Foundation chairwoman Debbie Davis said the community center and the school board have the same goals.

“We’re striving for a better quality of life and education for all residents of Eureka Springs,” Davis said.

Sam Kirk recalled being on the school board when the first committee was formed to figure out what to do with the old high school campus, back in 2010 when the board was finishing construction on the new high school campus. The committee received lots of feedback from the community, Kirk said.

“It was clear that there was interest in developing that as a community center,” Kirk said.

That’s when Diane Murphy, former chairwoman of the community center foundation, took the lead to determine the next step. Murphy said the foundation didn’t exist until it became clear that the project wouldn’t receive any funding from the city.

“The only available option was going to be forming a 501(c)(3) and developing it privately through a nonprofit, so the community center foundation was formed and we initially turned our efforts toward trying to find corporate and major grant support,” Murphy said. “We quickly learned that those types of funds were limited, even for an established organization.”

Fortunately, Murphy said, the community stepped in and raised enough money to get the project off the ground. The foundation then negotiated a lease agreement with the school board, Murphy said.

“It was acknowledged at the time the agreement was signed that once the community center was established, the agreement could be re-addressed,” Murphy said.

Foundation member Fatima VanZant said the fundraising will continue even if the board agrees to donate the campus.

“If we were able to have a long-term sustainable program, we could fundraise for exciting things like a splash pad, a climbing wall … anything you could imagine, we could fundraise for if we’re not just trying to keep the doors open,” VanZant said.

Foundation member Jack Moyer described numerous improvements the foundation has made to the property, from asbestos removal to roof repairs. Moyer listed many additions to the property, including a dedicated space for the farmers market, a walking trail, a greenhouse, a fitness center and weight room, the Old School Park and LED lights in the gym.

Foundation treasurer Adam Biossat said the community center has renovated several spaces into an office park. The foundation is considering renovating some spaces into one-bedroom apartments, Biossat said.

“It’s in high demand in Eureka. You can never find enough places for people to live,” Biossat said. “It is critical that the community center can pay for itself. This plan will allow us to remain in service indefinitely and serve Eureka Springs for generations to come.”

With the $20,000 the foundation pays the school board annually for the lease, Davis said, the community center could offer so much new programming.

School board president Chris McClung said he’s impressed with what the foundation has done at the community center.

“But we’re not prepared to vote this question tonight,” McClung said. “It’s not on the agenda as a voting item.”

Superintendent Bryan Pruitt has already started to look into what needs to happen to proceed with the donation, McClung said. McClung suggested putting the foundation’s request on its next agenda and the board agreed to do so.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 9, at the middle school cafeteria.

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