ES school board extends deadline on community center agreement

Friday, June 24, 2016

The old Eureka Springs High School building was once again the primary topic of discussion for the Eureka Springs School Board at its meeting Tuesday night, as board members discussed a proposed lease-purchase arrangement with the Eureka Springs Highlander Community Center Foundation.

Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to extend the deadline for signing an agreement on the lease-purchase to Aug. 1. Doing so will allow the foundation an additional month for fundraising and gives the board more time to evaluate a new draft agreement that was expected to be delivered by the foundation's attorney on Wednesday.

Before voting to extend the deadline, the board discussed a variety of issues surrounding the proposed lease-purchase, including options for handling approximately $88,000 in bonds attached to the old high school.

Attorney Kristi Kendrick advised the board that there are two options for handling the bonds. The first option is to sell the property and use the proceeds from the sale for capital improvements within a two-year period. The second option is to pay off the bonds, but because the bonds can't be retired before Aug. 1, 2020, the district would actually have to issue new bonds that would guarantee the integrity of the existing bonds.

Superintendent Bryan Pruitt explained that the bonds would have to be issued in $5,000 increments, meaning it would take a $90,000 bond issue. He said the fee for the district's bond attorney would be somewhere between $750 and $1,500.

Kendrick advised board members that the bonds will have to be addressed before the school district can enter into a lease-purchase arrangement.

"You cannot lease it subject to those bonds," she said. "You're going to have to get them off the property."

Board member Al Larson favored the second option -- issuing a new set of bonds and moving forward with the lease-purchase.

"I don't think we're going to re-invent the wheel and suddenly sell it," he said.

Board member Candace Spaulding moved to authorize Pruitt to work with the district's bond attorney on a new bond issue, but ultimately withdrew her motion after several minutes of discussion.

During the discussion, board member Gayla Wolfinbarger asked if any of the $120,000 the district has in its coffers from an insurance settlement could be used to retire the existing bonds, and Larson noted that the board had agreed to use a portion of that money for repairs on the old high school property.

Larson said those repairs -- which include fixing or replacing a roof and removing asbestos from the property -- are vital to moving forward with the lease-purchase.

"In my opinion, that would be the end of that project," he said of the possibility that the repairs would not be made.

Wolfinbarger said the board has a responsibility to its patrons to manage its money wisely.

"We are here for our schools first and foremost, not anything else," she said.

Wolfinbarger added that she wasn't sure the foundation would be able to meet its initial fundraising goal of $200,000 to move forward with the lease-purchase.

Diane Murphy, chairwoman of the community center foundation, was in the audience and addressed the board. Murphy said the foundation's attorney was preparing a redraft of the proposed lease-purchase agreement and hoped to deliver it to Kendrick on Wednesday.

"If the changes that we made are acceptable to the board, we'll be ready to sign July 1."

Murphy also expressed confidence that the foundation will meet its fundraising goal.

"We feel like we will meet that by July 1," she said. "We don't have it today."

The board briefly discussed the possibility of holding a special meeting before July 1 to review the foundation's new proposal, but nixed that idea because of scheduling conflicts.

Instead, board president Chris McClung suggested extending the deadline for signing the lease-purchase agreement to Aug. 1 and the board voted unanimously to do so.

The board then voted unanimously to authorize Pruitt to solicit bids for the removal of asbestos from the old high school building and, in a separate motion, again voted unanimously to authorize the superintendent to solicit bids for repairing or replacing the roof on the building.

The board also voted unanimously to authorize Pruitt to begin the process of acquiring a quit-claim deed on a portion of the property that may be owned by an entity other than the school district.

In other business, the board:

* voted unanimously to amend the school district's salary schedule to correct the omission of a school nurse's salary;

* voted unanimously to approve the school's student handbooks;

* voted unanimously to authorize Pruitt to develop a survey on school culture and report to the board on the results;

* and, following a brief executive session, voted unanimously to approve several personnel changes.

Pruitt also updated the board on upgrades to the elementary school playground, saying the project remains under budget. Topsoil and sod have been installed, he said, as well as irrigation lines. Pruitt said it will cost $86,000 to buy and install new playground equipment.

The board's next regular meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21, at the school district's administration building.

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