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North Arkansas College in Harrison has been trying to give away a five-story building that's infested with mold.

The cost of remediation and repairs? At least $4 million.

With no takers after four months of "due diligence," the college's board of trustees voted unanimously Thursday to proceed with a plan to demolish the Center Campus tower in downtown Harrison.

"This scares me to death, but for the long-term future of this college, the health of the Northark family and the need of this community to not have an abandoned building at its heart, we have to do the right thing," college President Randy Esters told the board.

Esters said the final plan to demolish the building at 303 N. Main St. will require a second board vote. He said it will take six weeks to tear the tower down, and he doesn't expect that work to begin before July 4.

"I wish we could come up with a way to save the tower," Esters said Monday. "It is such a landmark and holds a lot of cherished memories for a lot of people."

Esters said the tower primarily held offices and conference rooms for employees.

Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson said it's a "beautiful" building and he hopes it can be saved.

"Nothing's a done deal until it falls over," Jackson said. "We want that tower to stay. It's the biggest tower in our town. It's a landmark. It's really, really a cool place. But they've discovered mold so now they think they have to tear it down."

Jackson said the tower was built in 1981 to be Security Bank. He said people would go to the tower to ride the glass elevator for entertainment.

The college bought the tower and the adjacent Durand Center in 2005 for an estimated $1.2 million, according to Boone County real estate records. The Durand Center is a single-story conference and meeting facility.

Jackson, who is a real estate agent, said the college probably spent $4 million renovating the two buildings.

The college plans to give the Durand Center to the city. Jackson said City Hall will be moved there, and the city can lease the additional space in the Durand Center for meetings. Jackson said the college had been losing money on the Durand Center.

"It costs a lot for them to operate it whereas we will have a use for it," Jackson said. "We will be able to operate and use it at the same time."

Mold was discovered in the tower's top three floors last August.

An architect estimated remediation and repairs would cost from $7 million to $10 million, said Esters. Contractors concurred.

After contacting other experts, Morris & Associates Architects and Environmental Consultants of Scott gave the lowest estimate to fix everything in the tower for $4 million, Esters said.

He asked the experts about removing only the mold-infested upper floors of the building and remediating the rest, but they said the cost would be prohibitive. He got a similar answer when he asked about gutting the building and then trying to sell it.

When asked if it could be converted to a parking tower, Esters was told the building wasn't structurally strong enough.

So the college has been trying to give it away.

"We advertised the offer and sent out a request for proposals," according to Esters' notes on the tower saga, which he emailed to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "We said that if someone took the tower, we would be willing to consider offers as low as $1."

According to the request for proposals, "Potential owners must reveal how they would contribute to the local economy or culture and provide proof they possess the financial resources to satisfactorily complete repairs on the structure."

The deadline for proposals was April 5.

"Even though there were several request for more information, no proposals were received," Esters wrote.

The college has three campuses in Harrison and a Carroll County Center in Berryville's Bobcat Plaza. But if it no longer has the Durand Center and tower, the college will be abandoning its Center Campus downtown.

For now, the options are still open, Esters said. But the plan is to move forward with demolition in mind.

Following Esters' recommendation, the college board voted Thursday to proceed with negotiations for the city of Harrison to take over the Durand Center. They also voted to sell the parking lot adjoining the Center Campus.

"Employees working in the Center Campus will be moved to other locations in Harrison and on the North and South campuses," according to a news release from the college. "Esters said reservations that have already been made to date for the Durand Center will be honored."

Metro on 04/16/2019

Print Headline: Arkansas college's moldy tower faces scrap heap

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