Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

TOP STORY > >No new school for Austin

Leader staff writer

Members of Cabot School Board’s building and grounds committee decided Monday that Austin was not the best location for a new elementary building to take part of the load off Magness Creek Elementary — but neither was the acreage they were considering in Greystone.

However, the Austin location was too good to pass up, so the committee said the school district should buy the land for later use and look for a better site for the new school somewhere near Hwy. 5.

James and Dorothy Fulton, the owners of the Austin site, have agreed to sell the land for $10,000 an acre, and if the school district does not use it, they will buy it back for the same price.

Jack King and Bill Minton, the owners of the property at Greystone, had also offered to sell for $10,000 an acre.

Although Dr. Tony Thurman, school superintendent, was not willing to discuss possible sites for the new school after the Monday morning meeting, it was clear that the staff had sites in mind. He promised board members that he would have information about those sites by Monday afternoon.

Jim Dalton, assistant superintendent, said they have prospects, but they will have to talk to engineers who can tell them whether water and sewer is available and whether the topography is suitable for a school.

The district needs 16 acres to build an elementary school for about 500 students. Thurman told the committee that Austin was not the best location for that school now. The housing slump has not kept the district from growing and people will continue to move to Cabot for the schools. Enrollment is up 368 from this time in 2007, from 9,186 to 9,554.

Thurman recommended buying 18 acres instead of 16 so the district would also have the option of building a middle school there later.

“It may not be our next school but it’s too good a location to pass up for a school,” Thurman said.

The Cabot School District is made up of three cities in Lonoke County and the land surrounding them. Austin, which is growing since several subdivisions have been built there, is the only city without a school.

But when the building and grounds meeting ended Monday, Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain had not given up on the possibility of building the new school there.
Chamberlain said discussion during the meeting implied that without a breakdown of what age children live in what areas, it isn’t possible to know where the best location would be. The school district intends to hire someone who can operate a complicated computer program to provide the answers. But for now, all Chamberlain said she is sure of is that there was some talk of Greystone residents not being willing to drive five miles to a school in Austin.

“My families don’t like to drive five miles either,” she said.