South Ark administration building reopens 18 months after fire

Arkansas Today

EL DORADO, Ark (10/16/19) – The administration building at South Arkansas Community College has officially reopened for students and staff.

The 114-year-old building caught fire April 2018 after a lightning strike started a fire in the attic of the building.

No one was inside when the fire broke out but water caused much of the damage. Administrators say the sprinklers ran for at least 18 hours.

Now, after 18 months, the building is back and better than ever.

“It was a crisis but we’re just thrilled to be back,” President of South Arkansas Community College, Dr. Barbara Jones said. “It’s better than it was before and we hope it lasts for another hundred years.”

This first floor of the building now includes a learning center. Within the center there’s a computer, classrooms for tutoring and interactive learning. The community college’s student ambassadors have a designated space and all marketing and digital team members are in one area as well.

“It’s very student focused,” Dr. Jones said. “It puts it a little more central to our classes and makes it a little easier for our students.

The second floor will be dedicated to the alumni and also includes the South Ark Foundation, Finance and Administration and Human Resources offices. There is also a large conference room for interviews, committee meetings and classes.

The third floor is the president’s suite, in addition to the board room and offices for academic support, institutional research and effectiveness and academic affairs.

“We could never have imagined to be in spaces than what we had before,” Dr. Jones said.

The historical building, also known as the 1905 Junior College Building, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was once home to the El Dorado High School, Rogers Junior High School and a junior college.

Former students remember walking those very high halls when they were in that building. Bonnie Haynie was student when the college was Rogers Junior High School. The building and site hold a special place in her family history book.

“My mother went to high school there, Haynie said. “I wen to junior high there. We always had choir on the third floor. The bottom floor was the home economics facilities.”

When she and other students heard of the fire last April they were devastated. That building and the gym are the only two buildings still standing from their younger years on the site.

This is why restoring much of the historical elements in the building were so important. There is a lot of new furniture but they were able to restore antique furniture and school memorabilia.

The two features most students remember is the staircase and the tin ceilings.

“We were always fascinated by the tin ceilings,” Haynie said. “That was something we hadn’t seen.”

There are new tin ceilings but they look similar to what students marveled at when then would walk the halls. There was mold find on the staircase so workers replaced that and made it wider than it was before.

The plaster still remains visibly in one of the classrooms on the first floor.

“This is the only one left that we have is exposed but it really kind of tells the story,” Dr. Jones said.

The educational hub has been history for El Dorado and will continue to tell numerous stories to come. Dr. Jones hopes it lasts another 100 years.

There will be a dedication ceremony next month. The building will be named after long-time trustee board member and foundation member board, Charlie Thomas.

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