Fort Smith’s ABB, NEMA Motors Division, announced Monday (May 24) it will make a $1 million investment in the Peak Innovation Center, a regional career and technology center in Fort Smith.
Fort Smith Public Schools’ Peak Innovation Center, scheduled to open in August, will be a regional career and technology center with a focus on innovative instructional strategies within the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) disciplines.
Fort Smith voters in May 2018 approved a school millage increase, the first in 31 years, raising the millage rate in Fort Smith from 36.5 mills to 42 mills. The new rate was estimated to raise $120.822 million, $35 million of which will go toward district-wide safety improvements. The millage plan included a new $13.724 million career and technology center, now the Peak Innovation Center, featuring specialized lab spaces and classrooms for courses in healthcare, information technology, and advanced manufacturing.
Students attending the center have been promised to receive a hands-on approach to career-focused curriculum and programming taught by University of Arkansas at Fort Smith faculty as an extension of the Western Arkansas Technical Center.
NEMA Motors Division President Jesse Henson said ABB has always understood the value of education and makes a point to invest in the education of its customers through training, its employees through job training and tuition reimbursement and its employees’ children through scholarships.
“Although we have always done these things, we believe we can do more. We want to invest in the future of our young people within the local community where we operate,” Henson said. We want to invest in the high school students right here in the river valley area.”
The funds will be used to purchase advanced manufacturing equipment, including hands-on simulators, including automation and electrical, green technology, project control simulators and more, said Dr. Terry Morawski, FSPS superintendent. Henson said the equipment will allow students real-world, hands-on experience that can be leveraged to develop a workforce ready for ABB to use today.
“Over the past 10 years, I’ve been honored to meet some of these high school students. … We have been fortunate to have a number of them be part of ABB. … And I can tell you first hand these are extremely talented individuals. … These high school students have aptitude and attitude that we desire and the learning skills that we need right now,” he said.
The Peak Innovation Center is being constructed from a donated facility at the intersection of Zero Street and Painter Lane in east Fort Smith. In February 2019, the estate of William Hutcheson Jr. donated the former Hutcheson shoe manufacturing building at 5900 Painter Lane to be the Peak site. The 181,710-square-foot building that sits on almost 17 acres at the corner of Zero Street and Painter Lane saved the district at least $3 million that had been budgeted to buy an existing building for the career center.
FSPS has received numerous gifts and grants for the center. ArcBest announced May 7 it will donate $1 million and the center’s Community Room/Maker Space 10,000-square-feet multipurpose area will be named after the Fort Smith-based shipping and logistics company. Baptist Health-Fort Smith and Mercy Fort Smith announced Feb. 8 a collaboration to invest $1 million – $500,000 each – in healthcare science programming at the center. In January 2020, Gov. Asa Hutchinson pledged $2.1 million in state funding from the Office of Skills Development (OSD) of the Arkansas Department of Commerce to be used for advanced manufacturing equipment for the center. It was announced in September 2019 that FSPS will receive a $1.4 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) to help build the center. In June 2020, the Gene Haas Foundation announced a $1 million grant for expansion of the computer integrated machine lab at the center.
Education programs at the center will be available to approximately 43,000 total students from 22 regional school districts; these programs will equip career and college-bound students with real-world skills so they can secure high-paying jobs and/or pursue higher education in their chosen fields.
“Students in Fort Smith and the greater river valley area will have the opportunity to experience job-specific simulation training in labs that are unmatched in our state. This is happening here, in Fort Smith. … This is something to be proud of and excited about and I can’t wait to tour the lab and let you see because it is so exciting what is happening for our kids,” Morawski said.
After renovations, the facility will be 160,000 square feet with availability for future expansion on the 17 acres, the district has said. Phase One learning space will be approximately 80,000 square feet with a facility and equipment investment of $20 million, according to the school district.