The bids for renovating the exterior of the historic American Legion Hut in downtown Searcy came in more than $21,000 over budget, so the Searcy City Council on Friday morning agreed to have the city pay the overage.

“When we did the original application over a year ago, we thought that we could do the entire exterior of the American Hall for $90,000,” Main Street Searcy Executive Director Amy Burton told the council, “so with the increase of construction costs we have seen over the years, with the addition of an architect, which was required by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program due to the nature of the work done on an actual register property, we are looking at being just over $21,000 short in to being able to complete the project like we need to do, the entire exterior.”

According to Burton, the low bid came in at $97,000, which she said was substantially lower than the second lowest bid. “So obviously we want to go with that $97,000 bid,” Burton said. “And then we have in addition $14,000 in architectural fees.”

She said with the city adding to its portion, a renovation would be done on the city-owned building at 110 W. Race Ave. that would “total more than $111,000, with an investment of the city for under $30,000.”

Last July when the American Legion left the hut, it gave the city $18,000 to use toward the rehabilitation, according to Councilman Rodger Cargile. He said the city also received $6,000 from the Searcy Board of Realtors, which brought the amount to $24,000. A two-for-one matching grant with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program was applied for, with $60,000 received, meaning the city had to provide $6,000 of the $30,000 to match.

Burton told the council before it approved the added expense that she knows things are tough right now economically but it would be a value to the city to have the work done on the building.

Additionally, she said, there is an application pending for a second grant for $80,000 from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program that will allow the project to move into Phase 2 in the fall, which would be restoration of the interior of the building. The Searcy Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission has already agreed to pay up to a $40,000 match for the grant.

Once the project is completed, Burton said the American Legion Hut could be used for public events. It also will have two usable office spaces that can be used by the city or leased out as a revenue source.

“We need to go ahead and do this in my opinion,” Councilman Don Raney said. “I would love to see the Legion Hut rehabbed completely, that part of the [White County Courthouse] square. I think we need to do this.”

Raney asked architect Barry Hoffman if he had confidence in the low bidder, Elijah Hampton Enterprises of Little Rock.

“I have checked into the low bidder,” Hoffman told Raney. “We have got a solid contract, we have bond, we are going to have insurance, all the technical things that will back him up. That is about all you can do. He actually came up to visit the project and walked around.”

Raney made the motion to fund the actual amount of $21,021.93, and it was seconded by Councilman Logan Cothern and unanimously passed.

The other bid mentioned was from Wagner General Contractors Inc. of Searcy for $161,900.

In another action at the meeting, a resolution was passed to accept a $23,000 grant with no match from the Federal Aviation Administration for the Searcy Municipal Airport. Airport Manager Roger Pearson said this grant was more of a coronavirus relief grant.

“It is not designated for one particular project,” Pearson said. “It is more designed for a financial loss. This is the second grant we have got of this nature and we will use this one just like last one. It will basically replace revenue that has been lost during the corona epidemic.”

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