Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

TOP STORY >>Residents in Beebe to vote on millage

Leader staff writer

Voters in the Beebe School District will go to the polls next Tuesday to decide whether the district should extend the existing millage to raise $5.6 million to turn an old sewing factory into an early childhood education building. All the usual polling places will be open. The majority of the Beebe School Board agreed with board member Lorrie Belew who said last month that even though the turnout might be low for a special election, it should be convenient for those who wanted to vote.

The polling places are Beebe Church of Christ, El Paso Community Center, Antioch Church, McRae Multi-Purpose Building, Floyd Fire Station and Garner City Hall. All city wards and Union Township vote at Beebe Church of Christ. Voting yes will not increase property taxes. Instead, the millage extension will support a $12.2 million bond issue.

Of that amount about $6.6 million would be used to retire three existing bond issues for construction. The new bond issue would be retired in 2037, about 16 years after those it would replace. If voters approve the extension, the district will pay $500,000 for a 42,000-square-foot sewing factory and eight acres on Holly Street and use the new money raised from the extension to help pay for renovations estimated at $10 million.

The state approved the construction Monday during a meeting of the Commission for Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation, which means the state will pay 63 percent of the cost and the district will pay 37 percent. If voters turn down the millage extension, Dr. Belinda Shook, school superintendent, said the district will still try to buy the sewing factory and property, even if construction is not possible at this time.

“It’s critical,” Shook said when asked how important it is to the district for voters to approve the millage extension. “Our buildings are full now and we’re growing by 140 a year. “We may have to bring in some portables,” she said.

In recent months, Shook has been looking for other land on which to expand the campus. She has looked at land on Hwy. 38 toward Antioch and on Hwy. 64 toward El Paso. She said Tuesday that renovating the old sewing factory into classrooms will buy the district time to look for the right land at a good price. The district owns three houses, two in Beebe and one in McRae.

The old Baker house on Center Street joins the other school property and Shook said it is almost certain that it and the others will eventually be torn down so more classrooms can be built. For now, however, that house and the others are rented to school employees who, as part of their rent, are required to keep a watch over the campus when school is not in session. The Baker house rents for $500 a month. The others rent for $400 and $300.

The district maintains the property, including mowing the grass. The district anticipates a cost savings by renovating the sewing factory instead of building new. Steve Elliott, the architect who frequently works for the district, has estimated that by keeping the existing steel and concrete in place, the new school will cost $100 a square foot instead of $135.