Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

TOP STORY >> Beebe unveils $10M center for little ones

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

There was standing-room only in the cafeteria and no parking places left Monday afternoon for the dedication of the state-of-the-art Beebe Early Childhood Center, where Gov. Mike Beebe was the featured speaker.

“It’s good to be home,” the governor told the audience of more than 300 school employees, former board members, city and state leaders and parents. “It’s good to be at Beebe Public Schools when it hasn’t been hit by a tornado.”

When that disaster struck in January 1999, the governor had been the area’s state senator for 17 years.

Beebe asked if the roof of the new building was red like all the others on campus, which he said was an impressive sight from the air.

The buildings the school district patrons have helped pay for with their tax dollars are a testament to their dedication to education, the governor said.

“People select where they live in direct relation to the schools,” he said, adding that communities with good school systems are the ones that prosper and grow.

He praised the district for meeting the needs of the 570 students who will be enrolled at the new school for kindergarten and first grade. Education is a priority for the governor, who said it consumes 70 cents of every dollar in the state general fund.

The son of a single mother who worked as a waitress, the governor was born in Jackson County, but he told the audience that White County has been his home since he graduated from law school at the University of Arkansas in 1972.

“The foundation is kindergarten and first grade,” he said. “If they don’t get a good foundation, everything else that follows is inadequate.”

The 91,000-square-foot, $10 million facility on South Holly Street will house up to 600 students.

Much of the structure, including the cafeteria used for the dedication, indoor play area and library, is set on the concrete slab of a defunct sewing factory.

The facility has art and music rooms, a 3,000-square-foot tornado shelter, a stage in the cafeteria and a smart board in every classroom. It is painted in primary colors inside with splashes of those same colors outside. And it was built with small children in mind down to the low water fountains and toilets.

The state paid $6.3 million for the new facility leaving the school district to pay $3.7 million by restructuring bonds instead of raising taxes.

Dr. Belinda Shook, school superintendent, thanked the governor for taking the time to come especially considering his next appointment of the evening was with an ambassador from China.

She thanked Jack Delk, the construction manager; Eric Goodwin, the job supervisor; and Steve Elliott, who designed the building and all the new buildings in the district.

She thanked the district’s custodial staff that had spent the day getting the facility ready for company. And she invited the guests to look around at the new school, especially the indoor play area.

“Even when it rains, we play,” she said.