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State panel approves $518,125 for updates to Arkansas’ Governor’s Mansion

Funding includes weapon detectors 

by Will Langhorne | Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

State Building Division Director Anne Laidlaw presents a grant proposal for the Governor’s Mansion at a meeting of the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council at the Mosaic Templars building Wednesday in Little Rock. The concealed weapons detection system is estimated to cost $205,000, officials said in the grant application. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

The Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council on Wednesday approved a $518,125 request from state officials to cover maintenance costs and the installation of a concealed weapon detection system at the Governor’s Mansion.

In a voice vote without audible dissent, the panel authorized the award along with a series of other grants to state agencies and universities totaling more than $47 million. Grants provided by the council are funded through the state’s real estate transfer tax.

The grant for the Governor’s Mansion will fund the fourth phase in a preservation project that began during former Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s administration.

Part of the award will cover upgrades to the mansion’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. Replacing five aging water source heat pumps will cost an estimated $150,000. Design professional engineer fees associated with the upgrades are expected to cost $13,125, according to a grant application filed by the state Division of Building Authority.

The grant approved Wednesday also will help fund repairs for three leaky exterior balconies. State officials anticipate this work will cost $150,000.

Installing a screening device “that can detect a wide range of concealed weapons” at the west entrance of the Grand Hall is expected to be covered by the award. The Motorola Avigilon Concealed Weapons Detection System is estimated to cost $205,000, officials said in the grant application.

“In today’s world, one can no longer assume that the presence of armed security is an adequate deterrent for those with the intent to harm or destruct,” state officials wrote in the application. “With literally thousands of visitors to the Governor’s Mansion on an annual basis, deeper consideration must be given to how to detect a threat of danger for those living and working about the Mansion.”

State officials noted in the application that the Governor’s Mansion’s general revenue budget “is deficient in being able to meet the deferred and critical maintenance needs of the Mansion.”

The current appropriation and funding for the Governor’s Mansion Commission is $301,830. Due to rising utility costs, an appropriation limited to paying utility providers for utility costs was secured and continues in the amount of $200,000 per year, according to the application.

While private funding for refurbishments at the mansion is available through the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion Association, state officials said the organization’s support is limited to aesthetic renovations, such as decorations and furnishings, and is not intended to be used to subsidize facility operations or cover maintenance costs.

A separate $592,000 renovation at the Governor’s Mansion is nearing completion. The project, which was privately funded through the Governor’s Mansion Association, includes safety improvements for Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ three children and renovations to the upstairs living space and bedrooms.

Sanders and her family intend to move into the mansion once the project — which began at the end of February — wraps up, Sanders spokesperson Alexa Henning said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

The Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council has previously provided three grants for the ongoing preservation project.

To finance the first phase of the project, the panel approved a $1.1 million grant for fiscal year 2017, of which $188,812 was returned to the council. The second phase of the project was financed with a $566,000 grant in fiscal year 2020, of which $23,963 was returned. The council granted $339,300 for the third phase of the preservation project for fiscal year 2023, according to figures provided by Shealyn Sowers, a spokesperson for the state Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

In recent years, grants from the council have allowed the Governor’s Mansion administration and the state Division of Building Authority to, among other work, renovate cottages, improve security and remodel the mansion’s original kitchen and library, according to the grant application.

The council has awarded the Governor’s Mansion at least nine grants in addition to those approved for the current preservation project. Since fiscal year 2001, the council has approved roughly $7.6 million in grants for the Governor’s Mansion, though not all of these funds were used, according to documentation provided by Sowers.

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