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Mountain Home Public Schools explores remodel for aging high school

Mountain Home High School is a good-looking high school.

A simple drive-by of the campus reveals a well-maintained school with more to offer than many in the country. The campus boasts a sturdy metal roof, cafeteria with working equipment, a beautiful auditorium, gymnasium, machine shop, sleek football field, and a farmhouse dedicated to agricultural programs.

It’s a hub to a generous community that uses the campus year round. It even has a jet parked out front.

Head over to a major city like Little Rock and Memphis, and the only schools you’ll find with the same features will run parents $10,000-20,000 a year in private tuition fees.

It’s a great school, but its bones are aging, and Superintendent Jake Long believes it’s time to invest in Mountain Home High School again by remodeling the school’s aging infrastructure.

“The original 1966 high school building exists underneath,” said Dr. Jake Long. “If you look down from the metal roof line, the original building exists underneath that line. So, the why and the need is the aging essential bones of that original building. That’s everything from plumbing and electrical. All of that is original and exists underneath there. It’s functional on a daily basis until something happens until we have to jackhammer it out and fix it.”

During the school board’s Dec. meeting, Long unveiled a two-phase remodeling plan to see a portion of the campus torn down and rebuilt into a two-story building.

If approved, Phase One would see the front office, three labs, six classrooms, a teachers 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.

“What we’ve tried to do is brainstorm and design ways in which we can continue to have school but still update that facility,” Long said. “We know our high school campus is a 24/7, 365 days a year open campus of events going on from all over the community. It’s the hub of our school system. What we’re trying to do is figure out how we can continue to have school and design a two-phase approach to address our aging needs.”

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

While the contract for Phase Two has not been before the school board, Long estimates the cost to run another $20 million, bringing the total cost of the school’s remodeling to roughly $40 million.

“It looks to me that it’s going to be about $40 million for both phases as the design is today,” Long said. “That does not mean that’s the way it’s going to end up. There’s nothing set in stone. The community will have the opportunity over the next three or four months to tell us what kind of direction they want to go. We have to explain the need, show the need and show what is possible.”

Funding for the Mountain Home High School overhaul would most likely come from a millage increase. However, the district is weighing several options, including debt refinancing to get the job done and extending the district’s current millage rate, which would net the district $14.5 million in revenue for construction.

The current millage for the Mountain Home School District is set to 32.16 mills, a rate lower than the surrounding school districts and significantly lower than Arkansas’s average of 38.76 mills.

Long said a millage increase of two points would generate $44 million in revenue, fully paying for both construction phases. Additionally, the district could see 30% of its construction costs covered by the state for new construction.

For example, if $30 million of construction qualified to be covered by the state, the district would receive $9 million toward construction.

 Current Tax  1.75 inc  Inc diff for 1.75  2.00 inc  Inc diff for 2.00  Diff between 1.75 & 2.00 
                       16.21                       16.88                                0.67                       16.97                                0.76                                                           0.09
                       37.41                       39.02                                1.61                       39.25                                1.84                                                           0.23
                       96.77                    100.94                                4.17                    101.53                                4.76                                                           0.59
                    135.40                    141.23                                5.83                    142.05                                6.65                                                           0.82
                    201.78                    210.06                                8.28                    211.24                                9.46                                                           1.18
                    301.61                    313.98                             12.37                    315.75                             14.14                                                           1.77
                    505.81                    527.58                             21.77                    530.69                             24.88                                                           3.11
                    872.40                    908.18                             35.78                    913.30                             40.90                                                           5.12
               1,087.66               1,134.47                             46.81               1,141.55                             53.89                                                           7.08
               1,470.27               1,533.55                             63.28               1,542.59                             72.32                                                           9.04
               1,583.30               1,651.14                             67.84               1,661.18                             78.51                                                        10.67
               2,459.52               2,565.38                          105.86               2,580.50                          120.98                                                        15.12
            35,067.37            36,505.91                      1,438.54            36,711.41                      1,644.04                                                     205.50
         197,085.79         205,170.65                      8,084.86         206,325.63                      9,239.84                                                 1,154.98
         452,615.33         472,095.82                   19,480.49         474,878.75                   22,263.42                                                 2,782.93
     1,435,245.36     1,494,122.05                   58,876.69     1,502,533.00                   67,287.64                                                 8,410.95
The table above shows what a potential millage increase could look like to taxpayers in Mountain Home. The column on the far left represents theoretical taxes owed for individuals this year, while the columns to the right show what prices could be under various millage increases. The table was provided by Teresa Smith, tax collector for Baxter County.

Mountain Home’s school district currently has $4 million set aside for construction.

“That’s one aspect of the funding mechanism,” Long said. “The other aspect is within Mountain Home Public Schools. One mill will generate approximately $20 million in construction revenue. So that kind of gives people an idea of how many mills we need to take on to build a new facility like this. That’s based on today’s interest rates, which are currently low. And then our bonding capacity and our total assessments.”

According to state law, school boards are allowed four options to ask voters for a millage increase throughout the year.

Long stated that the first two options, in Feb. and May, were too close, not allowing for planning and community input. The district, he said, would most likely put the issue before voters in either Aug. or Dec. of this year.

“The next steps are to begin visiting with students, teachers and other administrators to fine-tune the design concepts,” Long said. “So that we have a true number and a true ask if we have to go to the community to ask.”

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