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The El Dorado Historic District Commission is moving ahead with plans to survey more than 300 properties for possible nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

On Sept. 10, commissioners selected a firm to conduct a Determination of Eligibility (DOE) survey for the Mellor Park residential area, the Forest Lawn/Eastridge subdivision, and a small section of the McKinney subdivision and some un-platted properties in the area.

Hours later, the El Dorado City Council placed its stamp of approval on a citywide historic preservation plan that was completed in July by The Lakota Group, an Illinois-based urban design firm.

Terracon Consultant Services, which is headquartered in Kansas and has multiple offices throughout the country, including Austin, Texas, whose office responded to a request for qualifications that was sent out by the EHDC was selected to conduct the surveys.

Terracon was one of three firms to respond to the RFQ and the first to submit a proposal.

“With (the coronavirus), I wasn’t sure we’d receive any responses at all and I got excited when first one came in and then two more came in. So to get responses from such qualified firms is exciting,” said Elizabeth Eggleston, executive director of the EHDC.

“In reading their reports, you can’t go wrong with any of them. My pick is Terracon because they have so much experience and they know all the rules and regulations,” Commissioner Sara Coffman added.

Other commissioners agreed and pointed to Terracon’s experience in historic preservation and environmental services, as well as projects the firm has done in Arkansas, including Hot Springs, Fayetteville and several local industries — Lanxess-Great Lakes Chemical, Clean Harbors and Medical Center of South Arkansas.

“Terracon is under contract with the city of Russellville to do a (historic preservation) survey and they have an office in Little Rock,” Eggleston said.

“We’re familiar with the state of Arkansas and its historic properties,” Elizabeth “Beth” Valenzuela, senior architectural historian for Terra’s Austin office, wrote in the firm’s proposal to the EHDC.

The survey is being funded by a $49,049 Certified Local Government grant that was awarded to the city by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.

It is the second such grant the city has received within the past 18 months.

In 2019, the city was awarded a $42,000 CLG grant to develop the comprehensive historic preservation plan.

The city provided a $10,000 match from the El Dorado Works tax.

The match was not required in the terms of the grant agreement but it demonstrated the city’s support of the effort, historic district commissioners said.

The grant covered other components of EHDC operations — including the executive director’s salary, training for commissioners and membership fees into historic preservation organizations.

It was the largest CLG grant to be awarded by the state — until commissioners heard about the $49,049.

The biggest portion of the grant, $42,500, is to be used for the surveying that will be conducted by Terracon. The project is the next stage in the implementation of the citywide preservation plan.

“I’ve got to get busy with the contract, like we did with The Lakota Group, with (project) milestones and a budget and we’ve got to get (Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer)to sign it,” Eggleston said. “We’ve got to go through the whole process like we did with The Lakota Group so the work is just beginning.”

Eggleston said she will work with state historic preservation officials to draft the contract with Terracon, noting that a “not-to-exceed-amount” will be included in the proposal.

The contract with Lakota is being used as a template for the new contract with Terracon, she told commissioners.

Later, Eggleston, Commissioner Ken Bridges and other commissioners appeared before the El Dorado City Council with a request to formally adopt the comprehensive historic preservation plan, which provides guidance, direction and recommendations on how the city can identify and prioritize historic preservation issues and projects.

Council Member Willie McGhee — who, along with Council Member Andre Rucks, represents Ward 3 — said several historic houses and buildings have been condemned and razed in his ward over the past few years without the city allowing owners or prospective owners the opportunity to rehabilitate the structures.

“There were some people from California who were interested in (pursuing) a grant to preserve the Southside school. They thought the old Southside Elementary School had historic value,” McGhee said. “Does this plan address that?”

Bridges said yes, adding that preserving the Retta Brown Elementary School building is one of the focal points of the plan.

The Southside school building mostly sat vacant since the school was closed in 2003.

Years later, the El Dorado School District deeded the property to the city and the building was razed in 2016 after city officials said it had fallen into a state of disrepair and was frequently targeted by vandals.

Because of low enrollment, the ESD now uses the Retta Brown building to house its Gifted and Talented Program.

Rucks inquired about how buildings are selected for preservation and potential nomination to the NRHP. Eggleston and Bridges said properties must be at least 50 years to be eligible for consideration.

Eggleston said the citywide preservation plan is designed to prevent occurrences such as the demolition of the Southside school building.

The council formally adopted the plan.

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