Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

TOP STORY >>Elation over new base school

Leader staff writer

Local leaders, including the commander of Little Rock Air Force Base and the mayor of Jacksonville, have greeted word of a proposed new elementary school on the base as great news. Pulaski County Special School District is analyzing for Brig. Gen. Kip Self, Little Rock Air Force Base commander, the type, size and cost of a new school to replace Arnold Drive Elementary on the base, according to Craig Douglass, district spokesman.

District administrators signaled their intent to build a $15 million replacement last week when it appeared for the first time on the state-mandated school facilities master plan. That plan, which must be submitted to the state by Feb. 1, calls for construction of the new school during the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school and fiscal years. Self has said the aging school, located on the base, should be replaced and has suggested that a new school could accommodate students from both Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools.

“Currently Arnold Drive has 245 military-family students, and Tolleson Elementary has 158 military-family students out of 266,” according to the general. He noted that by 2010, 1,200 new and refurbished homes would have been constructed on base, increasing student enrollment at both schools. Snyder said Arnold Drive Elementary was “a very substandard school building that was built years ago to be only temporary. At any given time, 25 percent of these kids have parents assigned overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan. We owe these parents and kids a better facility.”

Carmie Henry, president of the LRAFB Community Council, said the building was 50 years old, leaked like a sieve, was too small and badly located. Douglass said that growth projected for north Pulaski County and on the base were among considerations in moving the project to the head of the list. “We understand that the base and the Department of Defense have identified air base property outside the fence they would be willing to donate for the construction of the school,” Douglass said Tuesday. Confirmation that a new school will be built is good news, according to Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim.

“Every wing commander since I’ve been mayor has asked (for a new school),” said Swaim, who has held his job for 20 years. “This is not a new issue.” He credited Self with making a new school a top priority. He said there had been a number of meetings and discussions concerning the condition of Arnold Drive Elementary at LRAFB Community Council meetings.
Swaim said he and a contingent from the base had met with Superintendent James Sharpe about the issue, and earlier this winter, both Snyder and Senator Blanche Lincoln toured the old school.

Among the many factors the district had to consider, the Defense Department can’t pay for a public school, and Arnold Drive Elementary, bad as it is, is not the worst in the school district or Jacksonville-area schools. Sharpe had told Rotarians last month that a new Jacksonville Middle School was a high priority and the district, currently in fiscal distress, has committed such capital improvement funds as it has to building a new Chenal elementary school, Oak Grove High School and Sylvan Hills Middle School.

The $13 million Chenal Elementary School already is in the $2 million design stage, with construction due next school year and occupancy for the 2008-2009 school year. A new $25 million Sylvan Hills Middle School will be funded for $2 million worth of design work next school year, with construction through 2010-2011 and occupancy in 2011-2012. The new $40 million Oak Grove high school is on the same schedule and is slated for $4 million worth of design work.