‘Truly a need’: BV superintendent outlines construction plan

Tuesday, September 5, 2017
An artist’s rendering of the proposed new Berryville High School.

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series focusing on the Berryville School District’s proposed construction plan. Voters are being asked to approve a 4.45-mill property tax increase to fund the project in the Sept. 19 school election.

Berryville voters can soon vote for or against the proposed 4.45-mill increase to fund the construction of a new high school and other district improvements.

Superintendent Owen Powell said the Berryville School District is aiming to address students’ needs at all four buildings through this construction project.

“This is truly a need,” Powell said. “It’s not just that we want to go out and build a new school. We’re talking about a building that has been used for 70 years as of this school year. There are deficiencies in the building, and our kids deserve better.”

While the district originally had looked into building a new middle school, he said the district changed gears on the project in 2016 for two main reasons. The first, he said, is that when the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) inspected the district’s facilities, almost all of the deficiencies they found were in the high school and the cafeteria, which serves both high school and middle school students.

“The original plan was to demolish the high school, move the high schoolers into what is currently the middle school and then build a new middle school,” Powell said. “My thought and the school board’s thought was that this middle school was originally built to be an elementary school.”

He continued, “So we were going to move high school students into what was originally going to be an elementary school. That just didn’t make sense because the square footage that’s required for a high school student is obviously more than it is for an elementary students. Those classrooms really don’t meet code for a high school student.”

The second reason, he said, is that there was a lot of community opposition to tearing down the old high school, which was built in 1947. When the tornado came through Berryville in 1942, he said, it wiped out the school, other than the Old Rock Gym and the Agri Building. As a result, Powell said the old high school serves as a sort of testament to the school district’s survival.

“There’s a lot of sentimental value attached to that building,” he said. “When you drive by, it still looks like a really nice building from the outside. Our maintenance and custodial staff do a tremendous job trying to keep that building up and looking good.”

However, the building does have foundation problems, Powell said, and the district constantly has to address plumbing and electrical issues in the building.

“It’s not an efficient building. There are almost no electrical outlets in the whole facility,” he said. “With our high school going one to one with technology, teachers and students have to charge those Chromebooks up all the time. That building is just not conducive to 21st Century education.”

As a result of these concerns, Powell said the school board voted at its December 2016 meeting to pursue the construction of a new high school. The board agreed on a proposal involving the construction of a new 98,000-square-foot high school for grades 10 through 12 on the east campus, which contains the current middle and high schools; new 22,000-square-foot cafeterias for both the middle and high schools; and new 22,000-square-foot media centers for both the middle and high schools. The proposal also includes renovating and converting the existing high school into an administration building.

Additionally, the proposal involves the demolition of the middle school’s west wing, the media center, the cafeteria, the back of the existing high school and the small buildings around the campus.

While high school students would move into the new building, middle school students would remain in their current building and fifth-graders would be relocated to the east annex on the east campus to free up classrooms at the intermediate school and accommodate the rising enrollment on the west campus, where the elementary and intermediate schools and Bobcat Arena are located.

The new high school will be built on the current football field on the east campus, Powell said, and a new football field will be built on the west campus.

“The new high school will have the addition of a 600-seat performing arts center, a new library and media center and a new cafeteria,” he said. “As far as other features, it’s mainly going to be classrooms, two science labs, a technology center and of course a principal’s office, secretary’s office and counselor’s office. It’s mainly what is required by the state.”

Currently, Powell said, high school and middle school students are served by a single cafeteria. The district begins serving lunch to sixth-graders at 10:35 a.m. each day, he said, and does not finish serving lunch until 1:40.

“There are five lunches: sixth grade lunch, seventh grade lunch, eighth grade lunch and two high school lunches,” Powell said. “We start serving breakfast at about 7:35 a.m. and end at 7:55 a.m. Then we turn around 45 minutes later and do ‘Breakfast On The Go’ from about 8:45 a.m. to 9 a.m.”

He continued, “So the cafeteria workers finish ‘Breakfast On The Go’ at 9 a.m. and have to have lunch ready for sixth graders at 10:35 a.m. They definitely have a long, hard day. We’re really in a tough spot over here right now.”

The high school construction project includes new cafeterias for both the middle school and high school, he said, which would allow the district to feed high school and middle school students at a normal lunch time.

The other student needs driving the construction of a new high school, Powell said, are safety and security concerns. With add-on buildings at the high school such as the ESL room, the EAST room, the FACS room, the special education room, the east annex and the west wing, he said students have to travel outside almost every period as they transition to their next class.

There are currently about 29 buildings on the east campus when these small outlying buildings are taken into consideration, he said, so students are constantly traveling around the campus.

“Honestly, safety and security are what is driving this build,” Powell said. “When you try to lock down our high school right now, it’s almost impossible because there are so many outlying buildings.”

The new high school will provide space for these programs and elective courses, he said, eliminating the need for the outlying buildings around campus.

“This will drastically reduce outside transition,” Powell said. “There will still be a little bit, but our students won’t have to leave the building as often. This will also enable us to more easily lock down our high school campus in emergency situations.”

Part 2, in Friday’s Weekend edition: East campus renovations and improvements.

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