Weather moved groundbreaking ceremonies for Northside High School into the school’s auditorium Monday (Nov. 11), but cold temperatures could not dampen the spirits of students, faculty, school board members and local dignitaries gathered to celebrate the future of the school.
Fort Smith voters approved a 5.558 millage increase for Fort Smith public schools in 2018. The new rate is expected to raise $120.822 million, $35 million of which will go toward district-wide safety improvements. Other noteworthy items to be funded with the millage is a new $13.724 million Career and Technology Center featuring specialized lab spaces and classrooms for courses in healthcare, information technology, and manufacturing and additions and improvements to both Northside and Southside high schools.
Monday’s ceremonies were to celebrate the beginning of the first phase of a $29 million, multiphase construction project at Northside High School.
Conway-based Nabholz Construction is the construction manager at risk for the project. The construction manager will be part coordinator and part contractor. They work with designers and architects in all phases of the project, which will include a 12-classroom freshman center addition, a secure entry that will lead to new administration offices, a competition gym with seating for 2,300 plus an integrated storm shelter, cafeteria renovation and more, according to information from Hoar Program Management (HPM) of Dallas, the project manager hired by the school district. The construction budget for the project is $29 million. Construction is expected to complete in time for students to begin classes in the renovated school for the fall semester in August 2021.
Plans for the gym (as well as the new gym planned at Southside High School) show each gym with 834 backed individual seats that run the full length of the gym on both sides from baseline to baseline. Second-tier seating on both sides will be basic bleacher seating. Each gym will have seating for 2,328 during regular use with the ability to add 500 additional seats for special events, such as graduation.
“These are big changes for the students and community to the look of Northside High School,” said Nayeli Sanchez, NHS student council president.
This summer, members of the Northside Keepers of Tradition protested some of the proposed changes to the high school, specifically how the changes would affect the historic look of the front of the school. Students moved into the new building for Fort Smith High School, which became Northside High School in 1963, in 1928. An annex was built in 1956. In 1956, the school built an annex.
With changes needed to update security at the school and to add the freshman center, the changes to the school were needed, FSPS administrators said. Designs for the new school were approved by a committee of students, administrators, faculty and citizen representatives before being approved by the school board. The project will add 133,000 square feet of new and renovated space for student education and activities, said Dr. Terry Morawski, deputy superintendent.
“I want to thank everyone so much,” said Dr. Keri Rathburn, NHS principal. “We are so excited for the opportunity this will bring our students and future generations.”
Groundbreaking for a similar project at Southside High School was held Oct. 28. The SHS project will include a 12-classroom freshman center addition and new competition gym with seating for at least 2,300 and an integrated storm shelter, along with a new standalone storm shelter, cafeteria renovation, media center renovation, new administrative office addition and possible South Gym renovation with a construction budget of $35 million.