Members of the Van Buren City Council voted Thursday to approve a construction contract for drainage improvements at Mike Meyer Park located to the south of downtown and along the Arkansas River.

The project will replace a pedestrian bridge in the park with a double-box culvert for drainage improvements, according to Brett Peters of Hawkins-Weir Engineers Inc., the project manager.

Council members David Moore, Alan Swaim, Darral Sparkman, Mike Kneeland and Tyler Wood voted to fund the project. Council member Jim Petty was absent.

The $184,170 contract was awarded to Silco Construction Inc. of Waldron, one of six bidders.

Peters told the council the project came is well below the estimated cost of $200,000.

Mayor Bob Freeman said the construction and the $30,000 engineering services for Hawkins-Weir will be paid with a 50-50 matching grant from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

Peters said Hawkins-Weir had requested Thursday’s special meeting because of the deadline to spend the grant money. He said he expected construction on the drainage improvement project to begin in March.

Engineering costs were approved at a September 2017 meeting.

“We want to improve access to the park while avoiding the street behind the Simmons Food plant,” Peters said at the meeting. “The first step will be the widening of a drainage channel.”

Peters said Thursday the change from a vehicle bridge to the double-box culvert will be more in line with the historic lighting, decorative fencing, brickwork and other amenities at Mike Meyer Park.

“The double-box culvert will be a lot more aesthetically pleasing than a vehicle bridge and match the architectural aspects of the park,” he said.

Freeman has said the city also is seeking a state grant to make repairs to the Jefferson Street bridge. He said future planning calls for a study of accessing Mike Meyer Park and the Lee Creek area by making an immediate turn to the west off the Jefferson Street bridge.

A class project by students at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith said the riverfront could be viable with a more inviting and appealing environment along with interactive activities and a safer environment.

An activities survey showed 42.71 percent of those interviewed would like to see a zip line along the riverfront, 39.58 percent hiking and biking trails, 11.46 disc golf and 6.25 bike rentals.

The survey stated the hiking and biking trails would include minimal risk, but no direct revenue while the disc golf offers possible revenue, but lack of survey support.

A zip line offers unique quality, statistical support and revenue potential, but also is the most risky option, the survey stated.

Students stressed the riverfront would need safe environment measures with lighting with the key factors being a clarified layout and security.

Emphasizing walkways, focal points and gathering places and improving docks and ramps for extended hours also were suggested.

The survey found accessibility to be another major factor.

The current route is unwelcoming and includes obstacles from Simmons Food Inc. and potholes, the survey states.

Students suggested a reroute to bypass Simmons to include a smoother route, clearer direction and scenic drive.