Plans are advancing for the Little Rock School District to open a new middle school later this year. It’s to be housed in an existing office building and adjacent warehouse along Highway 10 in west Little Rock.
Simultaneously, the district is also planning construction of a new high school in southwest Little Rock.
Superintendent Baker Kurrus gave an update on both projects to reporters Tuesday at district headquarters.
For the middle school, he said school officials are preparing to complete the $11.5 million purchase of a building previously used by Leisure Arts, a publisher of lifestyle and instructional craft publications.
"We’re going to close on the building, we’re doing the architectural work on the refurbishing now, we’re going to engage contractors and be ready to open for business in August 2016, this year. It’s a tall order but we can do it," Kurrus said.
Already, students are being enrolled with sixth grade classes to be held there in the coming school year. It would be expanded the following year to serve seventh graders.
"We think we can transform that warehouse and that location into a first class, very, very nice middle school," Kurrus said. He estimates it will cost $20 million to renovate the building, which he said was "on the high end."
Overall, between the cost of the property and renovation, it will save the district $17 million compared to what had originally been planned if the district had to construct a new building, Kurrus said.
Eldon Bock with WER Architects, which is planning the project, said the existing building will work well as a school.
"It’s got great bones to it," Bock said. "It had a very robust infrastructure for its previous use, it had a lot of technology needs, mechanical needs, and frankly its got a lot of open office space, so it’s surprisingly, easily adaptable."
The school would be for students graduating from Terry, Fulbright and Roberts elementary schools. The district hopes to have a principal in place soon who can lead the school.
Meanwhile plans are also moving forward to build a new high school in southwest Little Rock for about $80 million, which Kurrus envisions as "a world class educational facility in a part of town that really needs that right now."
It would be constructed on a piece of land the district already owns on Richsmith Lane and be able to handle 2,700 students, compared to more than 1,400 currently enrolled at McClellan and J.A. Fair high schools. The size, scope and and cost will be determined during a design process.
The plans come at a challenging time for the district, which was taken over by the state a year ago and had its school board disbanded. It has also faced increased competition from charter schools which have lured many students away from neighborhood schools.
He believes both schools can be financed with existing revenue and would be counting on an increase in enrollment.
"I think we have to decide as a community what do we want? Do we want a school district that's willing to settle for less or do we want a school district that's vibrant that competes not only with other schools within our boundary but with other schools in the state," Kurrus said.