Election day has arrived in Mountain Home, and the fate of Mountain Home High School is only a few hours away from being known.
The school’s proposed remodel and the 2.25 millage increase needed to fund it has been the talk of the town, with residents passionately debating their side of the issue against each other.
On one side is the pro-remodel side, which argues that the community should tighten its belt and invest in its children, and on the other are concerned citizens who state that many in the community can’t take another tax increase as a stagnating national economy teeters on the edge of a recession.
“While I love the idea of seeing the school renovated and upgraded, I wish the millage request had been for a lower amount, or had included multiple options with varying bond amounts, coupled with a campaign to raise private funds through donations to make up the difference,” said Melissa Brooks Klinger in an impassioned Facebook post on the issue.
What’s at stake
Mountain Home High School has gone under several renovations throughout the years. In 1989, the school’s original 1966 buildings were covered with the high school’s current metal roof, enclosing several sections of the campus that had previously been outside with a metal structure.
Now, over 30 years since its enclosure, the oldest section of the school is starting to show its age. The 1966 section still features its original plumbing and wiring, forcing the district to do patchwork repairs to keep that section of campus functioning.
The original roof, accessible through the gymnasium, still rests inside the infrastructure while decaying and serves no purpose to the school. Members of Arkansas’s State Facilities Division toured the original structure last fall and said they “had never seen anything like it.”
And while inspectors have turned a blind eye to the failings of the original roof and the metal roof that covers it, that blind eye is not a guarantee for the unforeseeable future.
Water damage lines much of the roof, amplified by the high humidity and the 120-degree temperatures felt inside the enclosed space during hot summer days. The floor sags under each footstep for those brave enough to climb to the top as the smell of mold and asbestos hits their noses.
At the top of the enclosed roof, the space opens up, revealing a mix of metal, insulation, and wood—a tinderbox waiting to go up in flame.
“There’s no system,” Long said during one of his many tours of the high school. “There’s no way for fire to access it outside that door right there. So, what are they going to do? How are they even going to get a hose in here?”
With one roof well past the end of its lifecycle and the other reaching its replacement age, Mountain Home’s School District found itself in a difficult situation. They could either pay for a costly remodel, which would force taxpayers to front the vastly more expensive bill to bring the entire school up to modern code, or they could ask taxpayers to pay to rebuild the oldest section of the school after it was demolished, saving the taxpayers money in the long term.
The school district decided to go with the latter option and began looking into a full rebuild for that section of the school, with talks about the rebuild going as far back as 2018, well before COVID-19 and out-of-control inflation plagued the country.
Now, the vote over the school’s future and the district’s plan to finally fix a 30-year-old problem comes at the worse possible time as voters recoil from any form of government spending.
Yet through the noise, the school’s original roof remains a major problem that will continue to loom over the district, potentially costing it more money in the future if voters tell the district that their plan is a no-go.
“I’ve read some of the criticism of the opposition and have found it to be false, misleading, and in some cases just a simple difference of opinion,” said Arkansas Senate candidate Kyle Huber. “Nonetheless, this vote is vital to the future of North Central Arkansas, to the future of the Mountain Home School District, and the planning is forward thinking in how it addresses potential threats while at the same time adding academic opportunities with direct ties to local job placement.”
What a rebuild looks like
If approved, Phase One would see the front office, three labs, six classrooms, a teacher’s lounge, and an additional pair of classrooms torn down to make way for a new two-story 117,000-square-foot building.
The new building would boast
- 2,800 feet of administrative space for staff members
- 32 classrooms
- Two exterior classrooms
- New restrooms
- A 5,000-square-foot library
- A brand-new 12,800 cafeteria
- A 3,900-foot kitchen
Under the district’s updated contract with Modus Studio, the architectural firm that drew up the remodeling plans for the high school, the total cost of Phase One would cost $20.9 million.
Phase two of the project would be smaller in scale, knocking down 84,000 square feet of the oldest section of the original 1966 building from the current cafeteria to the library.
That section would be replaced with a new two-story 125,200 square foot structure that would feature:
- An additional 3,200 feet of administrative space
- 12 more classrooms
- Two new labs focusing on electronics and agriculture
- 4,500 square feet of Reserve Officers’ Training Corps space
- 13,000 square feet of multipurpose space
- A 6,200-square-foot wrestling gymnasium
- A 4,200 dance studio
- Two full locker rooms for basketball and physical education
- 62 new parking spaces
The new school designs focus on making better use of space by expanding the school upwards instead of outwards, making room for potential three-story buildings.
The new designs have also added a new emphasis on wood, corten steel, gabion stone walls, metal paneling, and bluestone. Previous artwork depicted a modern, simpler aesthetic with a focus stone and large windows to bring in light, but that was changed to accommodate the use of cheaper building materials.
Outside of a new main building for students, many of Mountain Home’s workers and their families would benefit from the $47 million project. The district is currently poised to return tax dollars back to the pockets of Mountain Home residents by purchasing its construction materials from local companies and by hiring local contractors and construction crews.
“This construction will also be done using local contractors. This was a big concern of mine, and Dr. Long assured me this was a priority for him as well,” said Huber after touring Mountain Home High School. “This project going to local contractors means local families get fed, get booked for years out with work, enjoy financial security, and many of them will be working on the very school their kids will attend. No one will care more about this school than contractors with kids and grandkids that go to school here.”
Heavy tax burden
While the case for moving forward with the millage increase is strong, it may not be strong enough to overcome the pinched pockets of people struggling to get by.
Those against the millage increase are not wrong in their assessment that taxes have been rising in the Mountain Home area over the past few years. Last year, the city asked voters to approve two separate tax increases of 0.5% and 0.25%, respectively.
The 0.5% increase was for the cost of acquiring, constructing, furnishing, and equipping park and recreational facilities and improvements, including a multipurpose center with 30,000 square feet of community center space, 35,000 square feet of gym space, and a 33,000-square-foot indoor aquatic center, with a 10-lane swimming pool. An outdoor aquatic center would account for another 35,000 square feet.
The 0.25% tax increase went towards two purposes: “(a) to pay and secure the repayment of bonds approved by the voters and issued by the city from time to time to finance park and recreational facilities, and (b) to acquire, construct, improve, expand, equip, furnish, operate and maintain new or existing park and recreational facilities.”
The 0.5% increase is temporary, while the 0.25% tax increase is permanent.
Additionally, Mountain Home residents find themselves receiving another tax hike this year in the form of property taxes.
Updated property assessments were recently sent out to owners last month following the end of a five-year reappraisal cycle, with new appraisals to be reflected in property taxes for the 2023 fiscal year.
Baxter County has roughly 44,000 parcels of land in real estate property throughout the county. Of that number, 22,000 or so saw an increase in their appraised value, with some owners seeing their taxes doubled.
The new millage increase would run taxpayers an average property tax increase of $45 per $100,000 of property value per year.
August 9, 2022, SPECIAL SCHOOL ELECTION DAY polls open at 7:30 am and close at 7:30 pm at the following locations and addresses:
Baxter County Courthouse, 1 East 7th St. Mountain Home, AR.72653
Lakeview City Hall, 14 Skyles Lane, Lakeview, AR
Eastside Baptist Church, 718 East 9th St., Mountain Home, AR. 72653
Henderson Fire Station, 12487 Hwy 62 East, Henderson, AR. 725444,
Midway Safety Training Center, 170 Dillard Drive, Midway, AR. 72651
Northeast Lakeside Fire Station, 5482 Hwy 62 East, Mountain Home, AR.72653
Election Commission Headquarters, 213 E. 5th ST., Mountain Home, AR 72653
A list of appointed election officials, deputy clerks, or additional deputies hired to conduct the early voting can be located on the door of the Baxter County & Circuit Clerk’s office beginning July 15, 2022.
Any person who objects to the service of a designated poll worker must make it known to the County Board of Election Commissioners within seven calendar days. The deadline for objections must be received before the date of the election.
Baxter County Election Commissioners – Judy Garner
Baxter County Courthouse (or call) – 479-755-5412
1 East 7th St. Mountain Home, AR 72653
Votes will be tabulated at the Baxter County Courthouse after the closing of the polls on Election Day.
Hearings will be held for Provisional Ballots that are rejected on the following Monday, August 15, 2022, from 10 a.m. till noon.
The deadline to register to vote in this Special School Election is July 11, 2022.
Sample Ballots are available online at https://www.voterview.ar-nova.org.