Construction begins on first high school built in Little Rock School District in 51 years


Photographs by Special to the Democrat-Gazette

An artist’s rendering shows the 400,000-plus-square-foot high school campus under construction in southwest Little Rock.

Construction is underway on what will be the largest school in the Little Rock School District and the first high school built in the district since work began on Parkview High School in 1966.

A dozen pieces of earth-moving equipment have begun clearing the more than 55 acres of undeveloped land between Mabelvale Pike and Mann Road for the 400,000-plus-square-foot southwest Little Rock high school campus.

The tract, which is south of the Home Depot at 11 Mabelvale Plaza Drive, is scheduled to open in August 2020 to as many as 2,250 students in ninth through 12th grades. The school will replace both McClellan and J.A. Fair high schools in the Little Rock district.

"This is about as exciting as it gets," Little Rock Superintendent Mike Poore said at a ceremony Monday at the site to mark the commencement of work and to announce the school's colors -- green and purple -- and the mascot, a gryphon with the head of an eagle and body of a lion.

"We are a district on the rise," Poore said as he highlighted some of the district's recent academic accomplishments, including the highest average ACT college entrance exam score for 2016 among the four school districts in Pulaski County.

The latest cost estimate for the new school is $101 million, which includes a $5 million contingency fund, district leaders have said in recent days. That's up from a $90 million figure used over the summer. The district is using a portion of the proceeds from a $93 million second-lien bond issue, as well as district savings and the final state desegregation-aid payment to the district this year of $37.3 million.

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Poore attributed the increase to higher-than-expected costs for site preparation and more precise figures as the school's design and construction move forward.

The construction of the new school -- which has not yet been officially named -- comes at a time of huge amounts of school construction in Pulaski County.

The North Little Rock School District completed the expansion of North Little Rock High School last school year, the largest piece in a systemwide consolidation and rebuilding of schools in that district.

The Pulaski County Special School District is in the midst of building new Robinson Middle and Mills High schools and will soon start on expanding Sylvan Hills High.

EStem Charter Schools just opened a new high school on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and is working on new elementary and junior high school buildings east of Interstate 30 in Little Rock.

Academics Plus charter school system opened its newly constructed Maumelle Charter High School just a few weeks ago.

Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who acts as the school board for the state-controlled Little Rock district, was among the dozens of dignitaries, school district employees and students from four of the district's existing schools who attended the white-tent event for the new southwest Little Rock school Monday.

"The strength of our state education system is well represented by the strength of the public school system in our capital city," Key said. "What we are doing here today is adding to that strength.

"When teachers have the facilities and the equipment to deliver a top-notch education to students who are hungry to learn, you are going to see great things happen in this school and in this district," Key said.

Sarah Bennings, an architect for Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, described for the crowd the elements of the campus, which will include a three-story, 310,000-square-foot academic building that will be designed to encourage student collaboration, nontraditional teaching methods and use of technology.

The school's auditorium will seat 1,200. Dance studios, band space and a black-box theater are components of the arts space, Bennings said.

"On the athletic side, the basketball arena will seat 2,250 and, combined with the auxiliary gym, will be large enough to now host tournaments," she said. "We'll have an awesome football/soccer stadium that seats 4,000. The school will also have baseball, softball, tennis, track -- and we'll even have facilities for wrestling. We believe this school will rival any school in the state of Arkansas."

Dexter Doyne, president of Doyne Construction Co., said his company is joining with Nabholz Construction Co. and Carson Construction Co. to make up the construction management team to build a school that "will be the finest, state-of the-art facility in the entire state."

Amari Doss of J.A. Fair and Amiya Mardis of McClellan High were among Monday's speakers, who included Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and businessman Gary Smith representing the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"Two schools that are constantly being put down every day will change for the better," Mardis said about the coming together of McClellan and Fair for the new school. "We will have new students, faculty and a chance to start over. Southwest high school will guarantee a new start to rise above our reputation. There are too many intelligent students being defined as something they are not, just because of the schools we attend."

Mardis said she is excited about the expanded academics and extracurricular activities that will be available, and she predicted that academic achievement will improve. Both McClellan and Fair were among the six schools labeled in 2014 as being in academic distress, resulting in the state takeover of the district. The two were relieved of the label last year.

"Today is the day we change our mindsets. We are not John L. McClellan any more nor are we are J.A. Fair, but we are now southwest high ... with new attitudes and a new focus," Mardis said.

McClellan, which opened in 1965, and Fair, which opened in 1982, were both Pulaski County Special School District schools acquired by the Little Rock district in 1987 because of an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals order in the long-running school desegregation lawsuit. The district's other high schools, Central and Hall, opened in 1927 and 1957, respectively.

Marvin Burton, the Little Rock district's deputy superintendent who has worked at both McClellan and Fair, highlighted features of the new school, including "collaboration stairs" where students can work together, oversized classrooms to allow for flexible grouping of students, state-of the-art science classrooms and laboratories, a cafeteria with five food-serving lines, and studio apartmentlike classroom space for special needs students to better learn life skills.

Burton and Poore said school planners drew heavily from the ideas of students, teachers and community members for the school's design.

"It is truly a school designed for students by students," Burton said. "We took a lot of what the kids had to say to heart."

The idea for a new high school dates back to former Superintendent Morris Holmes, who left the district in 2013, and to the elected school boards that purchased the property and authorized the planning before the state takeover of the district in January 2015.

Several of those school board members and former Superintendent Baker Kurrus attended the Monday ceremony.

That ceremony included them as well as students and members of the Little Rock district's Community Advisory Board, Little Rock Board of Directors, and state Board of Education, all of whom used 100 gold-colored shovels to break ground at the site.

The ground they turned over with those shovels sparkled with green glitter.


Little Rock students, school district officials and community leaders were among the 100 people who helped break ground at a ... + Enlarge


Little Rock School District Superintendent Mike Poore talks with Mabelvale Middle School student Dylan Hewing, 12, on Monday ... + Enlarge


A map showing the location of Southwest Little Rock high school + Enlarge

A Section on 10/03/2017


arkateacher54 says...

Waste of money based on the false notion that an expensive facility will magically transform the remnant of students in Little Rock into scholars. The state has created a competition for students with the charter school system, and helped create the private school movement and the home school movement by excluding God from public schools and by doing a crummy job educating students, thus creating more competition for public schools, then cries We got to have more money to throw on the fire we started. The city would do better by spending these millions to encourage parents to get married and get a job and to teach students to take ownership of their own education. Building new buildings is the easy solution that doesn't solve anything.

Posted 3 October 2017, 7:28 a.m. Suggest removal

Razrbak says...

Too bad all the students will be in charter schools when this is completed.

Posted 3 October 2017, 7:47 a.m. Suggest removal

skeptic1 says...

Arkateacher...you are 100% correct. We have a generation of students that were given "participation" trophies in place of being taught healthy competition. Then they go to college and expect a "safe zone" in case their protected view of the world is challenged. Our public schools are nothing more than warehouses and depositories of state and federal taxes yo be squandered by bloated administrators and the teacher's unions that keep bad teachers in the classrooms.

Posted 3 October 2017, 8:02 a.m. Suggest removal

JakeTidmore says...

Nothing but BS so far in the comments. The haters gonna hate and we're seeing the product of their education and upbringing. Doesn't speak well for them in either case.

Thankfully, the voters already approved this project and its monies. Naysayers are just bottom dwellers from the old pickle barrel of sourpusses.

Posted 3 October 2017, 8:37 a.m. Suggest removal

nc72211 says...

There's no doubt in my mind we need the facilities. Did we have the appropriate school election to put the question on the ballot? Yes. What was the outcome? Defeated. Then why are we building the school? Your decision at the ballot box has been subverted. The School board and administrators decided you didn't know what you were doing and that they would go ahead despite your wishes.
This is a second lien bond. It will reduce the amount of revenues available for debt service on the actual voted in school bonds. Judges have legislated and administered from the bench. Bet you didn't know your school board could too.

Posted 3 October 2017, 9:04 a.m. Suggest removal

NoUserName says...

And...Jake with the usual rah rah schools. So, $101,000,000 for 310,000 square feet. That comes out to $325 per square foot. In 2014, the median cost for HS construction was $235. The cost of this is high no matter how it's cut.

Posted 3 October 2017, 9:07 a.m. Suggest removal

JakeTidmore says...

When talking school budgeting & construction, the simple-minded tend to make uninformed comments. NUN gives information about sq ft for MS construction; avg HS median is in $303 range.
Here is Seacoastonline article excerpt about high cost of school construction and the factors that make it significantly different from regular business construction (read and learn, please):
Some builders believe looking at per-square-foot costs is not the most useful way to think about the issue.

“I hate square foot approaches,” said Ken Holmes, president of North Branch Construction in Concord. “No two projects are alike.”

Holmes and other experts in the field agreed that, generally speaking, there are several factors that lead to higher costs for building a school than other types of development. The primary one is the desired life expectancy of the building. Businesses are looking for a quicker return on investment and often look at 10- to 20-year time lines before anticipating renovations; schools, on the other hand, are built to last 50 years or more before receiving upgrades, Holmes said.

Tim Long, president of Meridian Construction in Gilford, said schools must be “high abuse rated” to stand up against the wear and tear that comes from many thousands of students walking through the halls over the building’s life span. Schools also must meet higher standards for air quality and require more sophisticated mechanical systems than other types of development, he said.

Even items like doorknobs cost more in schools because they have to be able to withstand much more use than a residential doorknob used a couple of times a day, Holmes said.

Long, whose company completed work at the Newmarket Junior-Senior High School over the summer to include mechanical, plumbing, electrical and fire protection systems, said schools often feature components that other types of development do not. One part of the building could be devoted to science classrooms with gas piping and chemical-resistant countertops, while another could feature a band room with specialized acoustics systems, he said.

“Within a school, labs and the commercial kitchens — cafeterias — are the highest expense per square foot,” Holmes said. “A commercial kitchen can be $200,000.”
I spent a whole semester learning about school finance. A major part of school board and superintendent training is about school finance.
NUN called me rahrahrah. If pointing out the lack of knowledge and the spitefulness in the comments is rahrahrah, am proud to wear such a badge. Better than being one of those blahblahblah, know-nothing buffoons spouting off about something they have little to no knowledge about, much less a basic understanding of the issues involved.
It's a done deal and all you picklepussy posse babes aint gonna change it. You got full diapers and the adults will clean up your mess as usual. Done with you clowns. Aint coming back to read your whines.

Posted 3 October 2017, 9:33 a.m. Suggest removal

NoUserName says...

One whole semester? Wow. An expert you are. No Jake, my price per square foot was HS according to the websites I looked at. And your whole post is basically that 'some builders' prefer you don't look at the man behind the curtain.
"Aint coming back to read your whines."

Posted 3 October 2017, 10:05 a.m. Suggest removal

NoUserName says...

Incidentally, your $303 cost? Maybe you should have read a little more:
"According to School Planning and Management's 2013 annual school construction report, median school construction costs in New England are among the highest in the country. Elementary schools cost $306.34 per square foot, middle schools cost $213.33 per square foot and high schools cost $303.03 per square foot"
Yup. Your $303 is for New England...some of the highest construction costs in the nation. Like I said, the cost for this school is WAY out of whack. Thanks for aiding my point. Your one semester of finance, not at a UA school, was it?

Posted 3 October 2017, 10:09 a.m. Suggest removal

Packman says...

Hey Jake - You just got pimp slapped by NUN. Put a little ice on it and the redness will soon go away.
Regardless, I'm glad to see the new school being built.

Posted 3 October 2017, 10:24 a.m. Suggest removal

RBear says...

arkateacher, really? Public schools are at fault because they excluded God from their curriculum? Have you not learned of the Establishment Clause in our Constitution? If anything, those schools that promote religion are more at fault than anything else. What's wrong with public schools? Folks like you who want to ram your views down the throats of others. A little note to you, the Establishment Clause also covers freedom FROM religion.
Then you go on some vague social conservative points such as marriage and getting a job. The first is a matter of choice and that also means choice of gender. The second comes with a person's own aspirations in life.

Posted 3 October 2017, 11:22 a.m. Suggest removal

PopulistMom says...

NUN is correct. Nothing is accomplished in Arkansas without tons of graft. Of course, property costs and construction should be much cheaper in Arkansas than on the East Coast. Too much financing is done through bond issues instead of minor tax increases. (Our taxes end up paying for the bond issues.) However, I am with Packman. I'm glad for the new school. Sometimes, a nice environment will inspire kids to perform. Of course, we still need longer school hours, longer school years, reading and math assistants, more teacher training, better curriculum, and better teachers. Also, I agree with the post that they need to stop promoting the kids who should not be promoted.

Posted 3 October 2017, 11:51 a.m. Suggest removal

mozarky2 says...

Let's not forget JT is opposed to a woman's right to choose-where to send her children to school, that is.
I guess he wants all children to attend dumbed-down, violent, undisciplined government indoctrination centers.
No way in hell will any grandchild of mine EVER suffer the horrors of a public school.
My grand daughter attends the toughest elementary school in the state, and she is literally several grades ahead of her p.s. attending peers. Scored 99 on her ACT-AAP, the highest score possible.
Stick your totalitarian philosophy where the sun don't shine, Jake.

Posted 3 October 2017, 3:59 p.m. Suggest removal

NoUserName says...

Pop, LR does need new schools. I have no issue with the building of this school. My issue is the seemingly high price point. Given LRSD history, and I know we're state controlled at the moment, I have zero faith that we're not getting screwed.

Posted 3 October 2017, 5:08 p.m. Suggest removal

PopulistMom says...


You are totally right, and thank you for your figures.

Posted 3 October 2017, 6:44 p.m. Suggest removal

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