Leader Blues

Friday, January 26, 2007

TOP STORY >>School will be built on air base

IN SHORT: New elementary for LRAFB No. 1 on the master plan after officials lobby for it.

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

With friends in high places, Little Rock Air Force Base’s Arnold Drive Elementary School is suddenly on deck for replacement with a new $15 million facility, according to the Pulaski County Special School District facilities master plan reviewed at a barely attended public hearing Thursday night.

The new school, which would also be on the base, is listed on the master plan for funding and construction during the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years.

Charlie Wood, one of three school board members at the meeting, ex-pressed surprise that Arnold Drive had moved to the top of the list, in part because there had been no discussion at any of the school board meetings.

Arnold Drive Elementary School’s emergency might be less surprising given that Brig. Gen. Kip Self has been lobbying not only the school board, but Cong. Vic Snyder and Sen. Blanche Lincoln, both of whom have recently toured the school with him.

“Arnold Drive was just added (to the master plan),” said Supt. James Sharpe. “It was put on the list because of all the attention drawn to Arnold Drive, especially input form the general.”

He added that Snyder, Lincoln and leaders in the state had told him that a new elementary school would add to the future and viability of the base.

Sharpe said no board action was required at this point, but would certainly be required before actually proceeding to build the new school.

Depending on the school count at that time, it is possible that some or all Tolleson Elementary School students also would attend the new school.

Self has said the base could make available land for the new school, perhaps “outside the wire.”

The Arnold Drive project may have jumped ahead of the proposed new Jacksonville Middle School building discussed publicly by Sharpe and Jacksonville board member James Bolden III a few weeks ago. It is not currently on the 10-year plan.

The district already is committed to build three other schools first. 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.
Wood, who also is on the site-selection and planning committee for the new Sylvan Hills school, is the most vocal proponent of building a new high school instead of a new middle school, then moving middle school students to the current high school.

The district at this point is proceeding on the assumption that it is building a new middle school, according to Sharpe.
Other local projects on the facilities master plan include re-roofing Homer Adkins Elementary School, completed; Homer Adkins asbestos abatement, slated for next year; re-roofing the Sylvan Hills Middle School field house, set for this year; re-roofing the Jacksonville Middle School for Girls and the Jacksonville High School auditorium and media center next year; and completion this year of the Pinewood Elementary School heating and cooling system and replacement of electrical service at Harris Elementary School and Homer Adkins.

Each district will review its state-mandated 10-year facilities master plan again in two years.

Currently, the PCSSD master plan calls for spending about $193 million over the next eight years.

The district’s wealth index is 87, meaning it will have to pay at least 87 percent of those costs, with the state kicking in 13 percent of eligible costs.

Larry O’Briant, the district’s chief financial officer, said that more realistically, the state would pay about 10 percent of the total, with the district paying the balance.