Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

TOP STORY >> Sherwood should get new school

Leader staff writer

Pulaski County Special School District board member Charlie Wood told the Sherwood City Council Monday night that construction of the new Sylvan Hills Middle School is moving forward despite opposition from Jacksonville.

He addressed the council, at the request of the mayor, to give them an update.

“There’s been some confusion as to whether or not the school is going to be built,” he said, adding that he was there to assure Sherwood that the PCSSD had approved construction of the school at its last meeting.

Wood said a few years ago when the school board approved its master plans, it approved construction of a new Oak Grove High School in the Maumelle area and a new Sylvan Hills Middle School near the current school. Property has since been purchased for the middle school.

Wood said at that time, the estimated cost for the middle school was about $24 million and about $40 million for the high school.

“The high school costs have increased to $81 million,” Wood explained. “We can’t afford that and build the middle school.”

The district’s administration at the last board meeting supported building the high school and proposed putting the Sherwood school on hold.

“I offered a friendly amendment to build both on the same timetable for $81 million. The motion was accepted,” Wood said, but quickly added that the district couldn’t do both for $81 million.

“We have a workshop planned in March to come up with ways to finance both schools,” Wood, who represents the Sherwood area, said. Some possibilities are to scale back the high school or to build it in two phases, freeing up money for the middle school.

“The official plans are to build both,” Wood said, “although there are no answers yet as to where to get the money.”

He then explained that it is in the best interest for Jacksonville to have no new buildings built. “When they break away, they will have to assume part of the cost, about $15 million,” Wood said. “They don’t want to assume that debt and are campaigning against it even though Jacksonville board member Bill Vasquez voted to build the two schools.”

Wood likened the school board to a city council, saying, “There’s lots of politics on the school board.”

“If the district just builds the new high school, I wouldn’t vote for it as it gives us the shaft, and school board president Tim Clark of Maumelle would vote against the idea of building just the middle school,” Wood explained.

And is that one vote important? The plans to build both schools passed at the recent school board meeting by a tight four-to-three vote.

“We have to get momentum to get these things approved,” Wood said.

In response to questions from aldermen, Wood said the architectural plans for the high school are about 80 percent completed and the middle school plans are much further behind.

Mayor Virginia Hillman said the middle school is truly needed. “I talked to the middle school principal and they are expecting an additional 200 students next year,” she said.

The master plan called for the school to be completed by 2011. Wood said he was not sure if the school would be open by then.