HEBER SPRINGS — Heber Springs is among the school districts that will seek millage increases in Tuesday’s school elections for construction and safety improvements, the superintendent said.
Heber Springs Superintendent Russell Hester said it is past time to upgrade facilities and give students what they deserve.
Patrons will be asked to approve a 3.4-mill property-tax increase to fund $12 million in improvements.
“We’re not asking for big-time wants,” Hester said. “Right now, we’re talking about needs. It’s a huge difference.”
Hester said the district has not asked for a millage increase since 1993.
The district has relied on state money given per student and on growth in property-tax assessments.
A 3.4-mill increase would up the district’s millage rate from 29.4 to 32.8, meaning an extra $68 a year in property taxes on a home assessed at $100,000.
Enrollment in kindergarten through the 12th grade is 1,840, an increase of about 40 students from last year, Hester said.
“When you have growth, you have to have more teachers, and when you have more teachers, you have to have more rooms. We just can’t continue pushing them in closets any more than we have,” he said.
The following are among the proposed projects:
• The No. 1 priority is a performing-arts complex, Hester said. It would provide space for the band, choir and drama.
The band building was constructed in the 1970s to house about 60 students, Hester said, and the district has 90 band students.
The room is crowded, “the acoustics are terrible,” he said, and band instruments are kept in various locations.
He said students store instruments in a former concession area and closets of an old gym attached to the band building.
“They’ve just got them all over the place. It’s hardly fair — those instruments are expensive — not to have a secure place, a dry place. Too much money is tied up in that program not to treat them any better,” Hester said.
“In my opinion, we have one of the better high school bands in Arkansas,” he said, adding that he believes the program would grow if it had better facilities.
Choir and drama students would benefit, too, he said.
“We’ve got a drama class, but we’ve got a small little stage in our cafeteria with no dressing rooms, no side rooms, so we can’t really have a play,” he said.
Hester said students who would like to be involved in theater are missing out.
“That’s a really good program. We really don’t have a drama department because we don’t have a facility,” he said.
The 1,000-seat auditorium in the proposed facility could also be used by the community, Hester said.
“We’re a really nice town that doesn’t have a place where we can bring in any kind of group, any kind of performers,” he said.
Heber Springs School Board President Gary Redd agreed that the complex is the district’s first priority.
He said that for years, none of the performing-arts programs — band, choir or drama — has had adequate facilities in which to rehearse or perform.
“It’s time to build it; our students deserve it,” Redd said.
• Security measures.
“It’s a big, hot topic, naturally,” Hester said of security on campus.
“We have hired a second resource officer. We’ve added cameras, most outside, some inside that we’ve added since school started,” he said.
“Cameras might deter somebody, but they’re basically for after the fact. We’d like to rearrange some entrances to make it where people have to check in — go in front of an office to be buzzed in or checked in,” he said.
He said some of the entrances and exits have been the same for 30 to 40 years, and there are too many of them.
“Just the mentality of the architecture of the buildings back then, … it’s just different than our needs are now,” he said.
• Expansion of the high school cafeteria.
The cafeteria was built to hold about 200 students comfortably, Hester said. Enrollment is 525 students in grades nine through 12. He said two 30-minute lunch periods are held with 250-plus students each, “sitting almost on top of each other, eating outside. It’s just a tough deal.”
Redd said the small stage would be removed, and more seating would be added, along with bathrooms, as well as windows to provide a view of the courtyard.
• An occupational- and physical-therapy building.
Hester said the program is now housed in a “portable trailer — you can’t call it anything else.”
“There is very limited space for the kids to do their work — their physical work and some of the skills they need to be taught,” he said. “In reality, it’s not a safe place in bad weather. We’d like to get rid of that old trailer and build us a new physical-, occupational-therapy facility.”
• Repairs, renovations — Hester said repairs would include replacing windows with energy-efficient windows, replacing air conditioners, etc.
Hester said he has heard more positive than negative responses regarding the millage proposal.
“When people look and say it’s been 20 years, … I hope they trust us that we’re doing the best we can do with funds available,” Hester said.
Redd said he congratulates board members and others involved in the millage campaign for doing their homework.
“We’ve got some good hard figures and know what we can do with $12 million,” he said.
Redd said money would also be put into maintenance and operations for the buildings being constructed.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.