Facility reports blow to schools

Thursday, December 9, 2004

Results of the facility study for Arkansas Schools recently became available with an estimated $2.8 billion price tag to bring public school buildings up to adequate standards.

In the assessment results two area schools, Manila and Buffalo Island Central, saw projected enrollment decreased in 2008 and Riverside had a projected increase in enrollment.

Enrollment for Manila in 2003 reported 1,010 with a projected 965 in 2008. BIC's 2003 enrollment of 821 went to a projected 728 in 2008. Riverside's 2003 812 enrollment is projected to reach 897 in 2008.

In the funds needed for facility and education study, the dollar figures for the three area schools reported were: Riverside $6,531,599; Manila $1,747,939 and BIC $2,504,019.

The costs were broken down into four categories with $86.6 million needed for repairs necessary to the immediate health and safety concerns; $1.67 billion for improvements that affect the function of the school system; $110,000 for short-term conditions, including completion of site improvements; and $407,000 for the least critical needs, including program enhancements and aesthetics.

All four superintendents, Pam Castor, Manila; George Holland, BIC; Gale Yates and Larry Nowlin, Riverside, said they were not surprised by the initial facility report.

"Comparatively speaking, we are relatively low in comparison to some districts," Castor said. "Financing remains a question. We will not know until the session is underway on what will be expected as far as state and local funding. We also do not have a time frame.

As far as the enrollment decrease projection, Castor said time will tell about the trends.

"We are in Mississippi County and live near Craighead County and that makes it difficult to predict," Castor said. "The number of live births figures into the predictions and many of our children are born in Craighead County. This can skew the results."

Castor said on the site summary, all in all the Manila District turned out well.

"We did not have any buildings on the Priority I needs," she said. "Priority I is the list for the safety and welfare of the students. We do have some priority II needs due to the age of some of the facilities. These can be corrected within a year's time. The facility estimate cost for the elementary buildings was $765,675 and the high school building $980,198."

Castor said once the completed building by building study comes out they will know more.

"We've heard that each building has an average of a 100 page report," she said.

BIC Superintendent Holland said overall he was pleased with BIC's needs report.

"I don't agree with the proposed decrease in enrollment numbers," Holland said. "Enrollment has been consistent over the last six years."

Holland said he could discuss it in more detail once he has all of the facts in hand.

"We, all superintendents, will need to go through the individual school reports very closely," Holland said. "For instance, in our case, I am not sure yet if both gymnasiums are on the list. The old gym has been removed but we are not sure if it was included in the study. I want to check all of the square footages on the reports and make sure that everything is correct."

Holland said overall he was pleased with the "needs" report.

"Recently we installed all new heating and cooling units in all of the buildings," Holland said.

Holland said there is a meeting scheduled at ASU next week and he is sure that the topic will come up. He said he was a meeting last week and overheard people saying that this facility cost could be used as a tool against the schools.

"We need to go through it thoroughly," Holland said. "I think people may use this to raise money in the state. If this happens I hope all districts get their fair share of the amount. We should know more in a week or so."

Gale Yates who has been acting superintendent at Riverside for the last year, said there is a lot of unknown right now.

"There will be a meeting at ASU on Dec. 9 and I am sure the subject will come up. Right now I don't have the details on each building," Yates said. "I was not surprised on the projected enrollment increase."

Yates said with the 4-lane highway coming through, it will only be a hop and skip to Jonesboro and more people will come toward Lake City.

Superintendent Nowlin who returned to school last week after a year's deployment with the Arkansas National Guard, said there is still too many things up in the air about this right now.

"We will have to wait on specifics," Nowlins said. "We have done a lot of work over the last six years. There are things we still want to do and will go ahead and start. We need more information on the work that has to be done and we will focus on that the next few years."

Both agree they were not surprised by the initial report.

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