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Mountain Home Public Schools ramps up efforts to turn out vote in special election

With less than a month to go until the special election over a millage increase to remodel Mountain Home High Schools’ aging and deteriorating campus, a team of staff, students, and parents are making the final push to convince voters to vote yes on the school’s long-planned construction project.

If approved by voters, MHHS’s original 1966 building would be demolished and rebuilt over a three-year, two-phased project that would cost the school district $47 million.

“Our issue lies in having an original 1966 campus that exists underneath this metal structure,” said Superintendent Jake Long as he pointed to a photo of MHHS’s metal roof.

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 of the campus still features its original plumbing and wiring, forcing the district to do patchwork repairs to keep that section of campus functioning.

A walk through the campus halls reveals sections of the floors and walls that show signs of being jack-hammered out for maintenance before being filled back in again.

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.

In March, the school board voted to approve a proposed budget that included a millage increase to cover the proposed $47 million remodel cost. If approved, Mountain Home School District residents can expect a 2.25 millage tax increase, which would cover the cost of the district’s three-year-long, two-phase remodeling plan to see a portion of the campus torn down and rebuilt into a three-story building.

To prepare for this, Long began hosting tours of the campus and its aging 1966 roof, allowing parents and voters to see firsthand the roof’s condition that rests above students’ heads every day.

The tour reveals patchwork repairs of the school’s original electrical and plumbing throughout its halls and a lack of natural light and trip hazards throughout the school’s corridors.

In the school’s gymnasium, the tour takes a more serious turn as parents and voters head upstairs to the school’s original roof. While most stay on the stable wooden platform at the roof’s entrance, those willing to take the risk of climbing onto the roof can get a sense of how badly the roof is truly failing.

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 as parents 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. “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 these concerns in mind, Long and Mountain Home’s School Board began to try to find ways to address not only the original roof but the wants and needs of students and faculty as far back as 2018 and 2019.

And while the economy has taken a turn for the worse, forcing the district to hold a vote at the worst possible time, Long and others still believe that there’s a good chance that the community will come together and take care of its students.

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.

And while some voters have shown concerns over building a “Taj Mahal” for students, Long said that the focus on using a variety of construction materials would keep the price down over using a traditional steel and brick model, which has seen exorbitant price rises, while still making the school pleasing to look at.

“It’s still a square building,” Long said.

Other concerns for the new building include concerns over school shooters, windows, and outdoor classrooms. Long said that the district has worked with its on-campus officers to develop a school design that will allow officers to see threats coming to students while still keeping them safe.

He also said that a special ballistic film could be added to the campus’s windows.

“We’ve addressed this question with the SROs, and their response is, we need to be able to see outside. We need to be able to see in. The school safety issues are not necessarily the windows. The safety issues are not being able to secure the doors,” Long said.

With the election right around the corner, Long and the school district will be taking to the streets in the hopes of winning votes. Students and faculty will be handing out signs and flyers, available at the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce, to those that want them.

Students will also be painting a mural in downtown Mountain Home to show their support for the school remodel. The district will also be running ad campaigns across social media and the radio. A testimonial series will also run on Facebook for the remainder of the month. The Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce will be airing a special video tour of the campus and its aging roof.

Long will also continue to host informational meetings related to the proposed millage increase each Thursday evening – beginning July 7 – from 5-6 p.m. in the Mountain Home High School Cafeteria.

During these meetings, Dr. Long will answer questions from constituents, conduct tours of the facilities in need of replacement, and discuss future plans for the two phases of proposed renovations.

In addition to these Thursday evening meetings, Long will also hold one of his recurring Walk-In Wednesday events on July 20 from 8:30-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-3:30 p.m. in the high school cafeteria. This event allows interested parties to drop in and visit Long at their convenience.

His focus for conversations during this event is on school safety and security across the district and to answer questions related to the upcoming millage ballot measure.

Early voting for the Special School Election polls will be open Tuesday August 2 thru Monday August 8 from 8:00 am to 4:30pm.

Early Voting locations will be:

Baxter County Courthouse– 1 East 7th Mountain Home.

Election Commission Headquarters 213 E 5th St., Mountain Home

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.

Contact:

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.

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