By Joel Phelps
Preliminary architectural drawings of a K-4 elementary campus were unveiled Tuesday at a public hearing of the Arkadelphia School District’s six-year master plan.
Clayton Vaden of Lewis Architecture Engineers, Inc., is the lead architect on the district’s campus projects. The new elementary school campus will sit at the present location of Peake Elementary School on Pine Street. The Safe Room and Pre-K building (the Peake Rosenwald School building) will remain intact, but the rest of the campus will be razed to make room for the new campus.
Vaden said the upcoming widening of Pine Street was taken into consideration when drawing up plans for the new campus. What sets the preliminary blueprints apart from the present facility is the shape — considering security, playground areas, drop-off lanes for both buses and parents and parking in the available space, the firm is going with a square layout. “We’re trying to maximize as much free open area as we can as we start to shape this building,” Vaden said.
The proposed campus drawings include a one-story K-1 wing on the western side, along School Street; a two-story wing for students in grades 2-4 on the northern side, along Pine Street; a media center, gymnasium and cafeteria on the east wing, along North 16th Street; and a central courtyard for a playground to be used by the younger students. Older students would take recess on a football-field-sized area between the school and Caddo Street.
The bus lane would run north-south on 16th Street, opposite the parent pick-up lane on the opposite side of the building. A secure entrance would be placed on the northwest corner of the campus, with most parking situated on the north side of the building, along Pine Street. In its drawings, the firm incorporated the district’s red, white and blue colors into the building’s facade.
The new campus will be funded by a millage voters opted for in 2015.
Dr. Charles Stein is the district’s consultant on school projects and serves as liaison between the district and state.
With a projected flat enrollment, there is no need for additional space at any APSD campus; however, the need is in replacing the buildings. “They’re in poor shape,” Stein said. With the next funding applications having been submitted for projects to be funded in 2023, Stein said, the district is “next in line” to receive state funds. The next round of project funding for the new elementary school should be known by May.
Board member Blake Bell asked for elaboration on the high school’s outdated systems and inquired whether the district would be better off making repairs until a new one can be built versus expediting that project. Stein said the state uses a ratings system to determine the overall value of a campus based on the condition of its roof, plumbing and electrical systems. Stein said state inspectors have noted it would be more beneficial to replace the high school rather than renovating it.
The district is expecting $9.3 million from the state to help match the district’s $20 million portion of building a new high school, which would be finished by early 2026. Board president Casey Motl took issue with those figures because the state is supposed to put up 55 percent of the total cost — Stein’s estimated total cost for a new high school is $30 million. Stein said his estimations for a new campus were based off a “worst-case” scenario, so the state should cover its share.
Board member Kenneth Harris asked if the state allocates funds to a district based on the desires of the state or the school district. Stein said the funds are based on the size of the school and the number of students, and that the state is frugal when it comes to doling out money. Harris’ next question was whether there is an anticipated hike in project cost if there are construction delays; Stein said there would be.
Next up to speak was Jason Holsclaw of Stephens, Inc., the financial advisor who works with the district on bond issues and how to pay for projects given the current millage rate and available funds.
Holsclaw said the school district is on par in terms of its average debt ratio after the sale of bonds. Following last year’s refinancing of bonds, Stephens structured the bonds to take savings from the first 10 years to give the district some financial freedom to begin its projects. Based on the recent years’ tax assessments and a 100 percent collection rate, the district is collecting about $3.7 million annually for the master facilities plan. With $700,000 of that set aside as debt payments, Holsclaw said, the district has five times more revenue than payments in the first years.
Bell asked if there are any variables that would “throw a wrinkle” in the master plan. Holsclaw said the only thing to worry about would be an increase in interest rates, but assured that wouldn’t change the amount of funds available to the district — just the payment structure.
At its Jan. 18 meeting, the board will consider a resolution authorizing Holsclaw to file an application with the state Department of Education to make an agreed-upon portion of the bonds available to the district. It was noted that the funds used for new facilities come from a millage voters in the school district passed in 2015.