Friday, July 17, 2015

TOP STORY >> Schools visited in new district

Leader senior staff writer

Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District officials toured buildings Friday that will be part of the new district beginning with the 2016-17 school year, assessing the condition and needs of each.

Superintendent Tony Wood and assistant Superintendent Jeremy Owoh, joined by school facilities expert Chuck Stein, made the trip to begin to formulate a final school facilities master plan, according to Phyllis Stewart, JNP chief of staff.

Those school buildings currently house Jack-sonville High School, North Pulaski High School, the old Jacksonville Middle School, and Arnold Drive, Tolleson, Warren Dupree, Bayou Meto, Pinewood and Murrell Taylor elementary schools and Homer Adkins pre-kindergarten. The Adkins building will belong to the new district, but, for the next two years at least, PCSSD will run it through a grant for students in both districts, Stewart said.

“We definitely need renovations and vast improvements,” Owoh said after the tour. “We want to make sure all the facilities are brought up to standards and updated, conductive to learning.”


“We feel it’s doable with the support of the community,” he said, which would include passage in the future of a millage increase.

In the short term, the high school will need improvements, and district officials continue to believe that a new Jacksonville high school and elementary school are needed.

The district submitted a preliminary plan in February, and the final master facilities plan is due to the state in October if the district is to be eligible for state facilities partnership matching money beginning with the 2017-18 school year, she said.

Until July 1, when he retired, Stein was director of the Arkansas Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation — the division responsible for administering the partnership program.


Stewart said the district would first be eligible for the matching money, estimated at about 50 percent of the cost of building or rehabilitating academic spaces, in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years.

That means a new high school, and most agree the new district desperately needs one, with an estimated cost of $50 million for the academic portions, would qualify for about $25 million from the state, based on the district’s wealth index.

The same new school, if built while the district is part of PCSSD, would qualify for only about $500,000 from the state, maybe less.


According to the preliminary state facilities partnership master plan, the district would build the new high school on Little Rock Air Force Base land, across from the current North Pulaski High School, which will be refurbished for use as the district’s middle school beginning with the 2016-17 school year.

To pay for a new high school, “We would have to pass a new millage tax increase and use partnership match money,” Stewart said.

“We believe students want this and the community supports that,” Stewart said. “There is almost 300 acres pledged (by the air base),” she said.

The JNP interim, appointed school board will be replaced after September school elections by an elected school board, for which three of the current school board members are running unopposed.


That new board will approve the final master plan for submission in October.

Arnold Drive Elementary School, a decrepit on-base building where many airmen send their kids, is slated to be replaced by a new building, with the Defense Department contributing between $18 million and $20 million.

The current plan calls for also schooling kids there who would otherwise go to Tolleson, but the district and the state will likely pay for that portion of the building.

“We’re still about 32nd or 34th on the (DOD) list,” Stewart said. “We’re expecting a visit from the Department of Defense in September.”

“California is ahead of us on the list,” she said, “but may not be able to come up with their matching money.”

“We can’t wait until (state partnership money comes in) 2017 to begin construction (on the new elementary school),” she said.

At its July meeting — Wood’s first as superintendent — the board authorized him to post requests for qualifications for an architectural and design firm and also for a construction manager.


Stein, a contract employee, in addition to helping to assess the needs of the individual schools, will help determine what improvements are needed for each or whether it would best be replaced, according to Stewart.

He will also help review the qualifications of the companies interested in doing the architectural and design work and also in acting as the construction manager.

Buildings that may become surplus in the next two or three years are the old Jacksonville Middle School building, Arnold Drive and Tolleson Elementary schools.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said at least one commercial developer is interested in the old middle school property, but the new district won’t own it until it purchases the property from PCSSD, probably around June 30, 2016. At that time, it could be sold, with the buyer probably responsible for demolition and asbestos abatement. Stewart said proceeds from the sale could go into the building fund.

She said the district has the authority to sell the schools first, unless a charter school wants them.