Monday, January 10, 2011

TOP STORY >> Base commander: Build new schools

By Garrick Feldman
Leader executive editor

The top commander at Little Rock Air Force Base says the military wants to give away 107 acres to build new schools and improve educational opportunities for Air Force families and their civilian neighbors.

Col. Mike Minihan, commander of the 19th Air Force Wing, said in an interview Thursday the base would donate two parcels of land for either new public or charter schools in addition to plans to open a Lighthouse Academy charter school for middle school students in the old officers club in August.

Just as the base is the center of excellence for C-130s, Minihan said he wants LRAFB to become a center of excellence for education.
The goal, he said, is to offer local students “a world-class education.” 

One proposal includes an educational campus on 77 acres on the site of old base housing that will be torn down as new houses are built or remodeled nearby. The area is inside the base periphery near General Samuels Road and Paradise Park, but the fence would be moved in to make the area accessible to civilians. 

The site would be ideal for a high school that would be part of the Pulaski County Special School District or an independent north Pulaski County school district, or it could be used for another charter school, Minihan said.
Another site, which was proposed several years ago, includes 30 acres on the base periphery near Harris Road and would make way for a new elementary school to replace Arnold Drive Elementary on base and Tolleson Elementary across the street from the proposed site.

Arnold Drive Elementary School was recently named a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education and designated among the top elementary schools by the state Department of Education.
Base officials say offering the two parcels of land creates an opportunity to partner with the school district and community leaders.

“Little Rock Air Force Base and local community leaders are committed to establishing Little Rock Air Force Base as an educational center of excellence,” Minihan said.

Minihan said he wants to see school construction to continue at the base, such as the new university campus near Vandenberg Boulevard, which opened this week for both military and civilian college students.

He called the $14.6 million campus “jaw-dropping.” It was built with a $5 million local sales tax and $9.6 million from the Pentagon.
“For the people of Jacksonville to have taxed themselves is truly exceptional,” Minihan said. “This is a great partnership between the city and the base.”

“Our goal is to advance the education of students in Jacksonville and on Little Rock Air Force Base as quickly as possible,” Minihan said. “Our children deserve a quality education.”

Construction, design and furnishing the old officers club and turning it into a charter school is projected to cost $950,000. But the charter school already has received commitments of gifts and loans totaling $875,000.

The Hunt-Pinnacle Group, which is constructing and remodeling 1,000 homes on base, has pledged $600,000 to help pay for the proposed charter school. 

“This speaks volumes of the Hunt-Pinnacle team and their commitment to our kids,” the colonel said.

In addition, Jacksonville’s Wilson family has pledged another $200,000 toward renovating the former officers club, and the family-owned First Arkansas Bank and Trust has approved a $75,000 loan to get the building ready for fall.

“To do that for our kids, they can’t be thanked enough,” Minihan said.

Leader senior staff writer John Hofheimer contributed to this report.