Harrison Daily Times
Buffalo National River Discovery Center in old junior high?
By JAMES L. WHITE firstname.lastname@example.org
The old Harrison School junior high has been vacant for about two years now. Many people wonder what might become of it, but a group met last week to look at the possibility of using part of it for a Buffalo National River Discovery Center.
Dave Fitton, long-time Harrison resident and a former city council member, called the group together. That group included:
-Jack Stewart and Ellen Corley with the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance were present, although they were representing themselves as Newton County residents only.
-Layne Ragsdale, a former Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce president and a member of the CORE downtown revitalization group that had years ago explored the possibility of a BNR center in Harrison.
-Tina Cole and Patty Methvin with the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District.
-Harrison School Superintendent Dr. Stewart Pratt.
-Current chamber president/CEO Bob Largent.
-BNR Superintendent Mark Foust.
-Arkansas Game and Fish Commission chairman Ken Reeves.
-North Arkansas College president Dr. Randy Esters.
-Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson.
-Dave Morton with Equity Bank.
Fitton explained that the general idea behind the afternoon’s meeting was to discuss a way to not only promote the river as a destination for tourism, but to leverage that asset for Harrison and all other gateway communities in the area, especially Jasper, Marshall and Yellville. Other such communities include Big Flat, Pindall, St. Joe and Western Grove.
Although the river does not flow through Boone County, the concept is to take advantage of the traffic flow through Harrison to educate visitors and even local school students about the different aspects of the river.
A comparison was made between Harrison and Manhattan, Kansas, in that the latter town houses a discovery center dedicated to the Flint Hills even though the city isn’t technically in the Flint Hills. It does, however, have significant traffic and people learn about the Flint Hills and might visit the area.
Fitton displayed the floor plan of the old junior high and ways the building could be modified to accommodate a discovery center. It has almost 80,000 square feet in the main part of the school to the south of College Avenue.
The cost of the plan was questioned, including purchase of the building.
The property was recently appraised, but there had been no offers to buy it at the appraised price. The school district has been authorized to sell it for the highest possible price.
There was no indication what that price might be, but Fitton estimated it would require $2.5 million in start-up capital.
The group discussed possible grants and other financing sources from both public and private entities. Members also discussed the fact that community support will be key to making the proposal a reality.
Fitton told the Daily Times that there could be a public meeting scheduled in the future for more public input.