New home for Bobcats? Powell: West campus is best fit for sports complex

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 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.

With the Berryville School District looking to build a new high school at the site of the current football field, the west campus could become the site for home games.

Superintendent Owen Powell said the west campus, which houses the elementary and intermediate schools and the Bobcat Arena, will also become the site for a new sports complex if voters approve the proposed 4.45-mill increase in the 2017 annual school board election.

In addition to a new football field, he said the proposed sports complex will include a baseball field, a softball field and an eight-lane regulation track around the football field.

“It would have a turf field for soccer and football, and it would be regulation-lined for both sports,” Powell said. “With the track, baseball field and softball field, that’s pretty much the bulk of the athletic facility.”

While the current football field runs east to west, Powell said the new one would run north to south.

“Most football fields run north to south, so it would fit the standard a little more,” he said.

The bleachers and lighting from the current football field will be moved to the west campus and reused, Powell said.

“We’re doing some things to be cost-efficient,” he said. “We’re going to take down the bleachers and lights and move them over there. Those things will be refurbished to save money.”

While the original plan was to build the new high school on the west campus, Powell said there are several reasons the district and the school board chose to keep the new building on the east campus and build a new sports complex.

The first major issue with having the high school on the west campus, he said, would be the volume of traffic for student pick-ups and drop-offs.

“Right now, we have almost 1,000 students on that campus, and traffic and congestion can be a problem,” he said. “If we move 600 more students over there and leave the roads as they are, we’re talking major congestion. It would pretty much be unbearable.”

To adjust for that level of traffic, Powell said the district would have to build a new road that came back out onto Highway 62 at a different location to ease congestion.

“We’re looking at $1 million to $2 million to build a road like that,” he said.

A new road would not have been the only added expense if the district chose to build the new high school on the west campus, he said.

“There were core samples done on that side of the west campus where we had originally planned to build a new middle school,” Powell said. “They showed there would have to be major dirt work done over there. It would have been a significant amount of money.”

He said the architect and construction manager for the project said they would have to dig off the topsoil and haul in clay and compacted soil to make the site suitable for the building project.

“We were looking at several million dollars that the school district taxpayers would have been out of before we ever even started construction,” Powell said.

Dr. Paul Hines, facilities, maintenance and transportation director, said the core samples did prove that the space would be supportive to parking lots and flat surfaces as opposed to a large vertical building.

“A sports complex is a whole different thing,” Powell said. “We’re talking about the difference of building a huge high school versus a stadium with some stands. It doesn’t carry nearly the same weight load.”

Another concern, he said, is that there are so many extracurricular needs that must be accommodated in the design of a new high school.

“To build a new high school, there are many extracurricular things you have to build. They are required by the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) whenever you build a new high school,” he said. “You have to go by their code and their specs.”

If the district were to build a new high school on the west campus, then it would have to build a new agri building, a new family and consumer science (FACS) building, a new band room, a new choir room and other facilities, he said.

“We would have to build them over here. We just built a band room and a choir room on the east campus about 10 years ago,” Powell said. “It’s a nice facility. We already have those things here on this campus that are very functional and in good shape.”

With all the requirements involved in building a new high school, he said the district’s architect and construction manager estimated that it would cost almost $40 million to build a new high school on the west campus.

The proposed building plan, he said, is estimated to cost about $23.85 million.

“We’re asking for 4.45 mills to do this $24 million project,” Powell said. “If we were to go over there and build a new high school, then we would probably be asking for about 8 mills, which is irresponsible. I know that wouldn’t be approved.”

He said he believes the district has a good construction plan in place to meet the needs of its students and fulfill ADE requirements.

“I feel like we put together a really good plan,” he said. “There will still be some outside transition with the band room and choir room, but high schoolers will be closer to the main building this way. We will still use the FACS building, which will be right next to the new high school, and we will still use the two shops for agri, the physical education facility and the Bobcat Gym.”

The original millage increase the district was looking at was 5 mills, he said, but district officials worked to bring the amount down as low as they could and still build. 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.

“That 4.45-mill increase is as low as we can possibly go and still build,” Powell said. “This is a need for our students. It’s not about keeping up with the Joneses or going out there to build a new building. There is a true need for a new school here, and there has been a lot of thought and planning put into it.”

The Berryville School Board voted at its June meeting to request a 4.45-mill increase for a 30-year bond issue expiring in 2047, extending the district’s 13.05 debt service mills out to 2047 as well. If approved, the district’s new total millage rate will be 42.5 mills.

According to a brochure on the upcoming millage election released by the district, a millage rate of 42.5 mills is typical when compared to other schools in the area. Pea Ridge has a millage rate of 44.8 mills, the brochure says, and both Prairie Grove and Gentry have a millage rate of 42.9 mills. Lincoln and Farmington have millage rates of 42.7 and 42.6 respectively, it says, and Harrison and Gravette are at the lower end with 39.2 mills and 37.2 mills, respectively.

If this construction project is approved, Powell said he cannot see the district needing to build anything new in the near future.

“Unless we just hit a tremendous amount of growth, it would be the last time we need to build in my lifetime, probably,” he said. “I expect small steady growth, so I don’t foresee us needing to build anything else for a long time.”

Hines said the elementary and intermediate buildings are in excellent shape, and the east annex, which will become a fifth-grade academy under the proposed construction plan, is also in excellent shape.

“The middle school may need some tweaking and renovation over the years,” he said, “but the current high school still has some system deficiencies and facility deficiencies that need to be addressed whether there is one child in there or 600 children.”

Hines continued, “The board and Powell have worked really hard to be good stewards of the money. The build that they have designed is going to be attractive and nice, but it’s not going to be full of bells and whistles. There are schools where they look at eye candy first and functionality second. I think ours fits in well with the Berryville community.”

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 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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