Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

TOP STORY >> Cabot school building continues at fast pace

Leader staff writer

In order to keep pace with the rapid growth in Cabot and surrounding areas, the public schools are in a constant expansion mode.

Annual increases to the student population in recent years have averaged about 300 to 400 students, or about 3 to 4 percent, explained Jim Dalton, assistant superintendent of Cabot Public Schools, in a recent interview.

One year, enrollment leapt 9 percent; another year it was a mere 1 percent. As required by state law, the district every two years updates a 10-year plan that lays out proposed construction and improvement projects, but, “it is very difficult to project out that far,” Dalton explained.

Enrollment in Cabot public schools is 9,400 students.

Current projects include construction of a new elementary school, a new junior high school to replace one destroyed by fire in 2006, and renovations to the high school.

Last week, the district acquired the land on which to build a new elementary school on Mountain Springs Road, off state Hwy. 5. The new school, projected to open in the fall of 2010, “will bring relief to Magness Elementary School, which is growing by leaps and bounds,” Dalton said. Last week, the district let for bid site work for the project.

The district has also let for bid work on the final phase of rebuilding Junior High North, which was razed in an electrical fire in August 2006. The building is now in the dry, and work on the interior is under way. The plan, Dalton said, is to move the teachers and their materials into the new building over the summer and open this fall.

“It will be good to finally get students out of portables and back into a brick and mortar building,” Dalton said.

A number of improvements, in part driven by the jump in enrollment, are planned for the high school over the next five years. The existing gymnasium is no longer adequate for the school’s offerings in physical education, health and recreation.

Planned is a larger building that will accommodate all those programs as well as a cafeteria with the capacity to seat half the student population at once. That is in response to a state law that mandates schools feed students in two shifts to reduce the wait for lunch. The existing cafeteria can seat only 350; the school’s current enrollment is more than 1,700 students.

The new building will have two lobby entrances, each with a dual purpose. One will be an entrance for both the health building and fine arts auditorium; the other will serve as an entrance to the health building as well as to the cafeteria. That area will also work as overflow seating for the cafeteria. Construction on this project will commence in the fall; completion is anticipated in 2011.

After that, renovations to the auditorium, which includes new seating, will begin. When the new cafeteria opens, the old one will become the home of the school’s agriculture and shop programs.

This spring the high school’s old media center will be renovated to house the Junior Air Force ROTC program.

Cabot public schools serve the cities of Cabot, Ward, Austin, and several small townships and unincorporated areas that comprise 184 square miles in northern Lonoke County.

The district has eight elementary schools (K-fourth grade), two middle schools (fifth and sixth grades) two junior high schools (seventh to ninth grades), one high school (10th-12th grades), one charter school and one alternative school.