By: I.C. Murrell
Student-athletes are coming to Southeast Arkansas College soon, and along with it the need for housing.
College and community leaders turned over dirt during a ceremony Thursday to signal the start of construction and renovation of the former Davis Life Care Center into an athletic village called The Reef, in honor of the school’s athletic identity, the Sharks. The facility is located at 6811 S. Hazel St., just across from SEARK’s Seabrook Activity Center and 4 miles south of the college.
The Reef will host up to 171 student-athletes, with the rest of the units available for non-athletes who need housing, according to school officials. The school will compete in baseball, softball and e-sports starting in the 2023-24 school year.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $5.5 million, said Dee Brown, founder and CEO of The P3 Group, which is managing construction. That is a higher cost than college President Steven Bloomberg’s $4.3 million estimation in March.
The Memphis-based group will own and operate the facility but will endow $7.24 million back to SEARK over the next 20 years.
“The Brown Foundation is the philanthropic arm of The P3 Group,” Brown said. “We launched that 501(c)3 in order to give back to communities in which we do business. Under the structure of this project, we secured the financing on The P3 side to fund the balance of the construction activity, and of course Jefferson County pitched in about $1.5 million and donors pitched in as well through SEARK.”
The college approved a $2 million transfer from reserves to the construction account last month. SEARK acquired the nursing home for $990,000 in February.
About $240,000 of the Brown Foundation contribution will go toward tuition and fees for residential assistants per semester.
The P3 Group plans to build a program where the RAs can take leadership roles within the facility and include training and career-readiness tools “to help students prepare for the next step in life,” Brown said.
Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson expressed his pride in the vision Bloomberg had that is now coming to fruition. Bloomberg said in January having an athletic department would help preserve local high school talent for the next level and is a way to add to SEARK’s student body.
“This is a long-term relationship that will go past my term and [Bloomberg’s] term,” Robinson said. “It’s a partnership that’s everlasting.”
Work on The Reef begins just as SEARK is expected to name its first baseball and softball head coaches today, three months after the college announced it was adding athletics. The school invited three finalists for the softball job and two for the baseball position to campus this week for face-to-face interviews and an opportunity to meet the public.
“This definitely isn’t a marathon. It’s a sprint,” said SEARK Athletic Director Chad Kline, who started his role last month. “We’re extremely proud. I’m a basketball coach, so I bank my career on recruiting and I think I’ve done one of my better jobs on hiring these coaches. I don’t think they would have necessarily applied and gone full force if they didn’t see our vision and Dr. Bloomberg’s vision of this.”
From left, Southeast Arkansas College board Trustee Shauwn Howell, Athletic Director Chad Kline, President Steven Bloomberg and first lady Lynette Bloomberg take part in the ceremonial groundbreaking of The Reef athletic village at 6811 S. Hazel St. on Thursday. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)
Cover Photo: Members of the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce Redcoats, along with public, banking, construction and college officials turn over dirt to begin work on The Reef, Southeast Arkansas College’s new athletic village at 6811 S. Hazel St. on Thursday. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)