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Scaling back

Unexpected cost requires change in nature center.


PROGRESS SLOWED: David Goad by walkway to new center, slowed by high bids.
  • PROGRESS SLOWED: David Goad by walkway to new center, slowed by high bids.

Bids on the Witt Stephens Jr./Central Arkansas Nature Center to be built in Riverfront Park came in high — more than twice than what was budgeted — so it’s back to the drawing board on what will be the state Game and Fish Commission’s most visible, and visited, center.

To be funded with receipts from the 1/8-cent conservation tax passed a decade ago, the riverfront nature center has surely been the most problematic, a moving target for Little Rock and North Little Rock city leaders. It was first to be in North Little Rock on the river, then at a site in southwest Little Rock, then in North Little Rock again. In 2004, Game and Fish finally settled on Little Rock’s Riverfront Park just to the rear of the Museum Center because of the site’s proximity to the Clinton Library, the Museum of Discovery, the River Market and other district attractions.

Game and Fish budgeted $6 million for the one-story, 16,000-square-foot center — $2.5 million for exhibits and $3.5 for construction — but the low bid on construction alone was $7.5 million, deputy director David Goad said. A second bidder was higher by nearly a million and the third by the same amount again.

The agency is working with the low bidder — Flynco Inc. — to cut costs “by several hundred thousand dollars,” Goad said. Originally designed to be an environment-conscious LEED-rated building, the building incorporated an expensive “green” roof, concrete walls and under-the-floor heating and air ductwork. All that and, likely, plans for an outdoor classroom, will have to be ditched to come in close to budget, Goad said.

The center is being built on fill material along the river, which will require digging deep for stable piers. The weight of the concrete walls would have required an even studier foundation.

The city of Little Rock is paying for site preparation, including building a pedestrian bridge from Clinton Avenue just west of the Clinton Museum toward the river. The bridge will end in a viewing stand; an elevator will provide access to the nature center below.

Goad said he hopes the footprint of the building will stay the same. The agency won’t cut back on programming, but it is considering changes, including the use of more traveling exhibits. “There need to be new things to draw people back,” Goad said. “What I want us to do is shoot some good video of biologists doing things, and enforcement.”

An extra $4 million would be pocket money for Stephens, son of the founder of Stephens Inc. and a former member of the Game and Fish Commission. Stephens is aware of the shortfall, but Goad hasn’t asked him for a donation. “He’s not obligated,” Goad said.

The Janet Huckabee Nature Center in Fort Smith also ran over budget, by about $1 million. The agency found money in its budget to complete the building; a Fort Smith group is trying to raise half a million dollars from private sources to pay back the agency. Overruns in Pine Bluff and Jonesboro were made up by private donations and grants, Goad said.

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