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story.lead_photo.caption A June 2019 file photo of the main building of the former Army and Navy General Hospital. - Photo by Grace Brown of The Sentinel-Record

An open letter to the community of Hot Springs:

The purpose of this letter is to give a report to the Hot Springs community about the status of the now-vacant Arkansas Career Training Institute facility (formerly known as the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center and before that as the Army and Navy General Hospital.) Unfortunately, the report is not good.

As background, the ACTI facility was used by the state of Arkansas for the last 60 years as a rehabilitation facility that included a residential program for 250 students. In May 2019, the state announced the end of the residential program because of the high cost of operating the 21-acre complex and 210,000-square-foot main building. Under federal law, the ownership of the complex must revert back to the federal government when the state is no longer using the facility for rehabilitation, education or health purposes. This transfer of ownership is scheduled to take place on July 1.

In June 2019, the Chamber of Commerce established a committee to try to find a new tenant for the large facility, or alternatively manage the closure of the complex in a manner that minimizes damage to the facility and protects our downtown tourist district. Thanks to the hard work of our local legislative delegation, Gov. Asa Hutchison agreed to extend the date of transfer from last October to instead this July 1. Utilities and security are currently being maintained by the state, but once the property is deeded back to the federal government then security and maintenance will be very much at risk.

Efforts to find a new tenant for the complex have included supporting the application of a local nonprofit organization to lease the facility, but unfortunately that turned out to not be feasible. In January, the chamber ran a half-page ad in a statewide publication advertising the availability of the complex. In March, the governor's office advised that the state would no longer be willing to consider repurposing the property and would proceed to deed the property back to the federal government.

In the last year, the chamber committee held over dozen meetings with local, state, and federal officials to encourage these government officials to plan for the long-term security and management of the facility. Sen. John Boozman and U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman and their staffs have been very helpful.

Our committee is concerned about the following issues that will require the help of our congressional delegation in the near future, including:

  1. Will there continue to be security patrols of the 21-acre complex to prevent vandalism or occupancy by the homeless?

  2. Will the federal government install an adequate security fence to minimize access to the 21-acre site?

  3. Will the local fire and police department have easy access if there is an emergency?

  4. Will there be periodic inspections of the large 210,000-square-foot hospital building to check for water leaks or other problems. Will the plumbing be drained, so as to minimize frozen pipes? Who will be responsible for those repairs?

  5. We understand that a raccoon has already moved into the second floor of the large nine-story building, and we hope that the complex will have adequate pest control.

  6. Will the electrical power be completely shut off to the complex? If so, this will shut off the power to the backup generator that provides supplemental water for the fire prevention sprinkler system.

  7. Who will cut the grass and rake the leaves on the 21-acre site?

  8. Will any federal agency have any funds to pay for maintenance for the complex?

  9. If a potential tenant should wish to tour the property, who will they contact for access to the building?

What can the citizens of Hot Springs do to encourage the federal government to properly manage the complex? We realize that our elected officials currently have overwhelming responsibilities in dealing with the COVID-19 virus and that must be their first priority. But we hope that the management of the ACTI complex can also be adequately addressed this year by the federal government. The chamber encourages citizens to contact by email or telephone our congressional delegation and to let them know of your concern for the future maintenance and protection of the ACTI facility.

This open letter was submitted by The Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce's Committee for the Future of the ACTI Complex, represented by Gary Troutman, chamber president and CEO, and the committee's executive committee, Clay Farrar, Dr. Jack Porter, retired Col. Michael White.

Editorial on 05/26/2020

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