School Districts to Spend $86.2M For 2008 Projects

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The slowdown in residential construction has no doubt left some in the construction industry hurting. But public infrastructure and school construction continues keeping pace with the demands of a growing region.

The four largest school districts in Benton and Washington counties – and the taxpayers that fund them – will collectively invest $86.2 million in construction in 2008.

In the preceding three years, those school districts spent $235.76 million on construction of various new schools, renovations, upgrades, administration buildings, sports complexes and other projects.

Spending on big school projects could be in line to keep up for the next several years.

Voters in Bentonville face a March vote for a tax rate increase to pay for $209 million in new construction, improvements and renovations, land and technology, security upgrades and general operations, said Sterling Ming, executive director of finance for the school district.

Fayetteville will be looking at an investment of between $40 million and $110 million for either a new high school or for renovation of the existing campus.

As the population in Northwest Arkansas has increased, so too has the need for more school space. This has meant steady business for several large-scale builders.

Companies such as Crossland Construction Co., Nabholz Construction Corp., Baldwin & Shell Construction Corp., Flintco Companies Inc. and others serve as general contractors and construction managers for many of the region’s schools.

Bentonville is the fastest-growing school district in the state, adding about 900 students per year, according to a school district pamphlet addressing the tax increase.

“If [the bond issue] is successful, then we’ll build six schools in the next five years,” Ming said.

If voters approve the increase, the district will build:

  • Three K-4th grade elementary schools in 2010, 2012 and 2013;
  • a 5-6th grade middle school in 2010;
  • a 7-8th grade junior high school in 2011;
  • a 9-12th grade high school in 2001.

Bentonville School District has been building at quite a clip to keep up with all the growth. Recent projects include: 

  • Centerton Gamble Elementary, $12.5 million;
  • Cooper Elementary, $13.5 million;
  • Central Park Elementary, $9.5 million;
  • Ruth Hale Barker Middle School, $10.7 million;
  • Bentonville High School expansion, $28 million.

Big Springdale School District projects in recent years include the $35 million Har-Ber High School, Monitor and Shaw elementary schools, at $11 million each, Turnbow Elementary, which was $9.7 million and Helstern Middle School, which was $11.8 million.

The district is also spending $13 million on an addition to Springdale High School, which Baldwin & Shell is handling.

“We do a lot of school work,” said Randall Russell, estimator at Baldwin & Shell’s Northwest Arkansas office.

The company will also be handling a new elementary school in Pea Ridge, which should come in between $8 million and $10 million, depending on some final design decisions, Russell said.

Owl Creek School, which cost $18.5 million, was the biggest school built in Fayetteville School District in the last three years.

“If you look at the growth rate in our school district as opposed to Springdale and Bentonville, we haven’t had that kind of growth here,” said Lisa Morstad, chief financial officer for Fayetteville School District.

Some big projects within Rogers School District include Heritage High at $39 million, a sophomore center at $16 million and a $16 million athletic complex at Rogers High School.

Building schools isn’t just lucrative. It is also rewarding work, said Darryl Harris, vice president of Flintco’s Northwest Arkansas division.

“It’s a pretty exciting process to be involved with,” Harris said. “It’s a real community project, and the community has a lot of interest in the project.”