Monday, January 10, 2011

TOP STORY >> PCSSD to offer plans

Leader senior staff writer

At meeting set for later this week of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce education committee, Derek Scott of the Pulaski County Special School District will propose realigning Jacksonville and north Pulaski County schools, possibly resulting in construction of a new middle school and a new elementary school and educating ninth- and 10th-graders at North Pulaski High School and the 11th- and 12th- graders at Jacksonville High School.

While the community will ultimately decide the shape of that realignment, PCSSD has a proposal that should serve as a point of departure for the discussions.

Jacksonville High School would be partially replaced with a new  $45 million building. North Pulaski High School would be closed and all area district students would be moved to the new Jacksonville High School.

A new Arnold Drive Elementary is not in this plan, but Scott, PCSSD’s director of development, met last week with the deputy director for family affairs from the Defense Department, which is deciding which of the 189 schools serving military dependents to build new schools for.

At the meeting, Scott will discuss the district’s 2020 Vision Plan for facilities, such as repairing and replacing buildings. “How we get there and what comes first is something the community needs to be involved with,” Scott said Friday. It would likely be months before the Defense Department makes its decision.

Meanwhile, Little Rock Air Force Base, which is leasing the old officers club to the Lighthouse Academy charter school, is also offering 77 acres for other schools. That is a possible site of
a replacement for Arnold Drive and perhaps Tolleson elementary schools, but it’s large enough to situate other schools as well—perhaps a new high school, Scott said.

Mike Wilson, who has helped ramrod the new Lighthouse Academy on First Street and also the proposed addition on base, said he thinks the acreage is available to Lighthouse as well.
“I took it that the offer was to anyone who would be interested in construction of school buildings there,” Wilson said Friday, “but I don’t know that there was any explicit offer.”

“How far can you look into the future?” he asked. “We have present plans, midrange and long-range. I know the board is interested in expansion beyond the one building.” 

“The district is firm that we need to replace Arnold Drive and Tolleson,” Scott said.

“We need to do something with the high schools. If the DOD comes through with funding for the school, we would want to use it for that school, and probably put money with it to make it big enough for Tolleson (students) and site it (on the 70 acres) so there would be room for future expansion,” Scott explained.

Here’s the draft proposal—the point of departure for trying to consolidate some schools and building some new ones—for the Jacksonville-north Pulaski County schools.

North Pulaski High School would serve all area ninth- and 10th-grade students, while Jacksonville High School would serve all the juniors and seniors.

Jacksonville Middle School students would be reassigned to Sylvan Hills Middle School and Northwood Middle School and the Jacksonville Middle School building would be demolished.
The Star Academy would be moved. Tolleson Elementary would be closed; its students would be reassigned to Arnold Drive Elementary and Cato Elementary schools.

Jacksonville Elementary School would be closed and the students moved to adjacent elementary schools, and the Adkins pre-kindergarten school would be closed and pre-K moved to another school.

Those closures alone are estimated to save $3 million a year—money available to demolish the existing Jacksonville Middle School and replace it for an estimated $60 million with a new kitchen and administration complex with a new elementary school attached on one side and a new middle school attached on the other.

Then, the Jacksonville area middle school students would be assigned to the new school instead of Sylvan Hills and Northwood, and Northwood would be converted to an elementary school.

Also, students from the nearby elementary school zones would go to the new elementary and the old elementary schools would be closed.

Currently, Sherwood, which will open the new Sylvan Hills Middle School next fall, is not on the plan, but Scott said he hoped to make repairs where needed in that area.

One proposal would close Harris, Scott and College Station elementaries, replacing them with a new school, the location of which has not yet been proposed.