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School district breaks ground on new Peake

This post has been updated to correct the square footage of the new campus.

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

A crowd of about 100 people gathered on a balmy Tuesday morning to celebrate a milestone in Arkadelphia history, as ground was broken at the site of a new elementary school campus on Pine Street.

“We are excited to be able to construct another new facility for our students and staff. They deserve new, modern, healthy facilities.”

— Nikki Thomas, Arkadelphia Public Schools superintendent

Construction on the new Peake Elementary School is expected to begin in coming weeks and wrap up in time for the 2024 fall semester. The campus will house students in grades from kindergarten through fourth grade. Fifth-graders will be moved to share the halls of Goza Middle School with grades 6-8. The new facility will replace Perritt Primary, Central Primary and Peake Elementary School.

The $26.2 million project is being funded by a millage increase voters approved in 2015. The 5.75-mill increase also funded construction of the Goza Middle School campus, completed in 2019.

Superintendent Nikki Thomas said the building of a new elementary campus will fulfill the promise made to supporters of the district’s millage increase request. “We are excited to be able to construct another new facility for our students and staff,” Thomas said. “They deserve new, modern, healthy facilities.”

Thomas reflected on the site’s history. Peake High School (now Peake Rosenwald) was built in 1929 on land donated by the John Edward Peake family with the agreement the the property retain the Peake name. Peake High School and the former Sloan School served African-American students until 1960.

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The growing city needed another school on the grounds, and so Peake was built to serve grades 7-12 while the original building served younger students. Following desegregation in 1969, the Peake campus served the school district as a middle school, with the Peake Rosenwald building acting as a Head Start from 1984-2001.

Now the leader of the school district, Thomas shared her own personal history with Peake schools. She attended Peake Middle School in the ‘80s, when Carroll Forte was principal. Thomas would go on to become principal herself, from 2008-2017, when the campus was an elementary school.

School board president Blake Bell, who as a student shared Peake’s hallways with Thomas in the ‘80s, said special occasions such as Tuesday’s groundbreaking is among the main reasons he volunteers as an elected member of the Arkadelphia Board of Education. Often questioned why he serves on the board, Bell said, “It’s days like today.”

The 80,000 square-foot campus will boast two stories: K-2 classrooms will be on the first level, and 3-4 classrooms will be on the second level. Lead architect Clayton Vaden, of Lewis Architecture Engineers Inc., touted the new Peake facility as having “cutting edge safety and security measures.” Vaden said the new Peake will be “something to be proud of” for the Arkadelphia community.

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