Comprehensive construction: BV building plans would impact entire district

Friday, September 8, 2017

Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 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.

The new high school is the biggest piece of the Berryville School District’s proposed construction project, but the plans also include renovations and improvements that will impact all four classroom buildings.

Superintendent Owen Powell said the east campus, which houses the middle and high schools, will see some major changes in addition to the new high school building. The biggest builds for the middle school, he said, would be a new 22,000-square-foot cafeteria and a new 22,000-square-foot library and media center.

“Building a cafeteria for the middle school solves our problem of having to feed students lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 1:40 p.m.,” he said. “We could feed high school students and middle school students at a normal lunch time. The new cafeteria would be built right here on Ferguson Street.”

To free up space around the east campus, Powell said the proposal involves

the demolition of the middle school’s west wing, the media center, the cafeteria, the old boiler room, the back of the existing high school and possibly the small outlying buildings around the campus.

“All these outlier buildings are going to be auctioned off. We’re going to sell them to generate some more funding for the school,” he said. “If people aren’t interested in buying them, we’ll have to demo them.”

Powell continued, “Another big piece of the demolition is the main high school wing, which has had several add-ons over the last 70 years. Part of the add-ons was the library for high school and middle school. It has serious foundation problems, so it would be demolished.”

As far as the current high school, built in 1947, Powell said the plan is to renovate the building into a central administration building, which will house the superintendent’s office, the business department, the special education office and anyone else with a districtwide position.

“Anybody that’s districtwide will be relocated to that building, so we can all work together in one central location,” Powell said.

He said the renovations and improvements to the east campus will also help address overcrowding issues on the west campus, which houses the elementary and intermediate schools. Fifth-graders will be relocated from the intermediate building to the east annex next to the current superintendent’s office.

“A lot of people call that the ‘old 4-5 building’ because it was originally built to house fourth- and fifth-grade students,” Powell said. “When we built the intermediate school, fourth and fifth grades went to the other campus. We’re going to bring the fifth grade back over to the east campus and house them in this building as a fifth-grade academy.”

This will free up eight to 10 classrooms in the intermediate building, he said, giving the district some breathing room in the elementary and intermediate schools.

“More than likely, the plan will be to move second grade into the intermediate building,” Powell said. “It’s a newer facility. It’s about 10 years old, and the elementary is 22 years old, I think. It would ease some overcrowding issues over there.”

To fund the construction project, the district is asking voters to pass a proposed 4.45-mill property tax increase. The Berryville School Board voted at its June 2017 meeting to employ First Security Beardsley Public Finance as the fiscal agent for the issuance of bonds. Dan Lovelady, representing First Security Beardsley, said the 4.45 mill increase would raise the district’s total millage rate to 42.5 mills and would generate about $13.5 million for the construction project.

A mill is equal to one-tenth of 1 percent and the millage tax is paid on the assessed value of a particular piece of property. In Arkansas, the assessed value of a piece of property is 20 percent of its appraised value. Thus, a 4.45-mill tax on a property with an appraised value of $100,000 would equal $89 per year.

Powell said the entire construction project will cost about $23.85 million, with $9.6 million coming from the Arkansas Division of Public Schools Academic Facilities and Transportation’s Partnership Program.

“With this Partnership Program, we put together a plan with the state, and they approved the plan and told us they would give us $9.6 million to build,” he said. “We signed that agreement on May 1, so we have 18 months from May 1 to break ground or the partnership agreement goes away. If it goes void, that $9.6 million will go to another school.”

If the millage increase is not approved by voters and the district has to adjust the scope of the construction plan, Powell said the state funding will not be the same.

“They’ve approved that money for this plan, so, if we change the plan, then the money changes,” he said. “If we reduce the scale of our project, then that money will be reduced.”

Powell said there is a chance the district would have to come back and ask for a higher millage for a smaller project.

“It’s very possible if this doesn’t go through the first time and we have to rework and redesign another plan that money is going to be lower,” he said, “and we could possibly have to ask for more mills than what we’re asking for right now.”

Early voting for the 2017 annual school board election begins next Tuesday, Sept. 12. Polling sites for early voting will be the Eastern District Courthouse at 210 W. Church St. in Berryville and the Western District Courthouse at 44 S. Main St. in Eureka Springs. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The last day to early vote will be Monday, Sept. 18.

The annual school election will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 19. Polls will open at 7:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. The polling site for the Berryville School District will be the Berryville United Methodist Church at 400 Eureka Ave. in Berryville.

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Part 3, in Tuesday’s Midweek edition: Sports complex on west campus.

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