Manila school district patrons discuss building project

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Terry Granderson, interim director for the Arkansas Department of Education Facilities and Transportation, along with representatives from Beardsley Public Finance, Nabholtz Construction and Cromwell Architects, were in attendance at a public meeting held Thursday, Aug. 27, at the Manila High School auditorium.

Terry Granderson, interim director for the Arkansas Department of Education Facilities and Transportation.

Manila Superintendent Pam Castor introduced Mr. Granderson who spoke to the group about the partnership funding that has been awarded to Manila for a new high school building.

"I appreciate the opportunity to be here," Granderson said. "We are not here to decide what you want to do. We are here to inform you on your options."

Several years ago the legislature appropriated money for facilities to help districts replace older school buildings.

Granderson said last year the partnership funds were announced early letting the schools know if they had been approved.

Granderson talked about the facilities requirement and time lines of the partnership funding. Manila has been approved for $14,024,718.01 in partnership money which will pay for nearly 70 percent of the building project approved.

One of the first time lines is 18 months from approval to hire construction manager. Manila has met that deadline. The district has four years from the approval date to complete the building project.

The master plan for a new high school building has been submitted and approved.

The district has had two millage failures - Sept. 17, 2013 and Jan. 14, 2014.

Granderson said it looks like the district will be tearing down 30,000 square feet and building back 138,413 square feet with 117,344 square feet funded.

He went on to explain the $14 million funding will not go up.

"You have had two projects funded by the state, a $1.1 million junior high and a $2 million elementary school. Now you have the opportunity get $14 million. The district has four years from the approval date to complete the project."

One patron asked if this millage fails, can the district have another vote. "Do we have to have your permission to have another vote?" the patron said.

"If the millage fails, we would meet and discuss it," Granderson said. "I will be honest with you, you could start bumping into the four year time line. I have told people there has to be seven months between elections, that is what I've been told, but I found out millage elections can be held once annually."

Granderson talked about facility distress. The worst case scenario would be in a situation where buildings were crumbling or unsafe. The state then can step in and take over but that has never happened.

"If we let a building get that far, we would not be doing our job," Granderson said.

He went on to say the money will not be turned back to the state as long as the project is completed in the four year time frame.

He answered questions about the site location, saying the site is not part of the partnership funding.

"You know best what you need," Granderson said. "We oversee the building plan, the room size, proper materials, etc."

The bond millage is for 30 years. Marshall Hughes with Beardsley explained refinancing and extending the present debt allows the district to ask for a smaller millage increase for the project.

Hughes said once the bond is paid off that portion of the millage will be retired.

Another question asked was if the millage fails how much money will have to be put into the existing buildings.

Granderson said he was not sure, the state fire marshals will come in and look at what has to be done. The existing building (Tipton Hall) has been grandfathered in. He said, "The classrooms will stay the same size but you may not be able to seat 20 kids in them which could mean more teachers."

The projected growth was discussed. The master plan was based on a 10 year growth.

Castor talked about the study done through the University of Arkansas based on the percentage Manila is expected to grow due to the projected jobs coming to Mississippi County. She said Manila School District's enrollment was projected to double in eight years.

It was asekd if enrollment doubles in eight years where will the next expansion take place.

Castor said with the new high school, the present high school built in 1975-1976 will be vacated and the district will have that space available.

A patron asked if the district can claim eminent domain to acquire needed land.

"My understanding of the law is we can if necessary, but I have never heard of a district doing it," Castor answered.

It was also asked where the Head Start would be placed if the present building is removed.

"My idea is to incorporate that with our pre-school space," Castor said.

It was asked if there is a Plan B if the millage fails.

"If the millage fails, the board and I will be charged to come back with a plan to meet the needs," Castor said.

The time frame was again discussed.

"You still have time, but don't wait too long," Granderson said. "We have taken money back."

The plans have to be drawn up and approved through several state agencies before work can begin.

Mixon said the project would need to be started by April or May 2016 to keep the partnership funding.

It was asked how much money the district has in the budget for the project.

"We have about $1.2 million dedicated to the project," Castor said.

The question was asked if partnership money can be used to purchase land. The answer was no.

Castor said changes can be made to the floor plan but not the scope of the project.

Mrs. Castor said she and the board's challenge is to stay solvent with growth.

A former teacher commented the money earmarked for the project will need to be used for furnishings, any changes, etc.

One patron commented he did not see the space accomodations on the plan if the district doubled in size.

Castor said if enrollment doubled it could fit into the plan but if it goes more, some decisions would have to be made.

Cliff Chitwood, economic developer for Mississippi County, spoke briefly assuring people growth is going to happen. He said jobs are being created and he feels Manila School System will grow.

"Thank you all for coming," Ms. Castor said. "It is my belief the people of this school district have always supported this school and have a heart for the kids and have a heart for the school. No one in this room wants anything but the best for the kids. I want you to use this information and come out and vote and we will proceed."

The school election will be held on Sept. 15.

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