By Joel Phelps
Arkadelphia Public Schools is applying to the Arkansas State Department of Education for funding a new high school as well as a campus that would encompass all elementary grades. With all but two board members present, the Arkadelphia Board of Education on Wednesday approved a resolution during a luncheon at the high school.
Voters in the school district opted in favor of a millage increase to fund the construction of a new middle school and elementary school. While the Goza Middle School project has been completed, the voters are still waiting on that new elementary school. “Part of this application is for that [elementary school],” Superintendent Karla Neathery explained to board members and about a dozen AHS students.
Neathery said administration has applied to the state for a 3-5 elementary school and aims to keep that “as is” for the district’s six-year master facilities plan. Additional Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds will be applied for to make the elementary school K-4, which would put fifth-graders in middle school. Nothing is yet “set in stone,” and the ideas are all “possibilities,” Neathery explained, saying the millage would fund a campus for grades 3-5 and, if the decision were made to make that K-4, the state should fund the district for two more grade levels. “All these things are possibilities,” Neathery reiterated. “If we decide to go K-4, we could possibly receive more funding for those other two grade levels.”
The state could possibly partner with the school district and allocate $4.4 million for the elementary school. The district was unable to get that state funding the first time it tried, Neathery said, but is “next in line” to receive that state funding. “We’ve got a school district we’re watching right now,” she said, likely referring to the Batesville School District, where voters recently turned down a millage increase to fund a bond issue. “Is there a possibility we can be given their funding? We’ll learn more about that on Thursday” when that district decides its next course of action, Neathery said.
Arkadelphia’s district will learn in January if the state approves the funding, and by May 2024 the district hopes to receive the funding, Neathery said. “It’s a long, drawn-out process.” By May 2026 — if all goes as planned — construction will be complete, she said.
APSD sends application for funding to state
District will learn if the state approves or disapproves
District “hopes” to get state funding
Complete design and start construction
First building (elementary school) would be complete
Second building (high school) would be complete
The state also has reviewed the conditions at Arkadelphia High School. In April, the DOE performed a preliminary facility condition index, giving the high school a score of 74.8 percent — facilities scoring over 65 are in need of replacement, Neathery said. The high school, built in 1972, “has reached the end of its 50-year life,” she said. “All major systems, including the roof, HVAC, electrical and plumbing, are in need of replacement.” Neathery added the classrooms are undersized according to state requirements.
Board member Gina White asked how much money Batesville would surrender back to the state, pending that district’s next step. Neathery said more than $9 million, and if Arkadelphia were to receive that state funding it could “very possibly” speed up the timeline on APSD’s projects.
Board member Blake Bell clarified that these projects would essentially combine all the district’s campuses, which are scattered across the city, into two campuses: AHS/GMS, and an elementary school campus located at the present site of Peake Elementary School, on Pine Street.
Board member Dr. Kenneth Harris asked for clarification on the elementary school: “If we’re funded for 3-5 and go ahead and build it, we are thinking of building it in such a way that, if we go K-5, it could be all connected?” Neathery affirmed, adding, “We’ve still got that millage out there. We need to complete that elementary school. Also we’re trying to consolidate our resources to do the very best thing we can for our students.”