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Sunday, September 21, 2014, 3:24 p.m.
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Rebuilt Vilonia school to be named for Mitchell

By Tammy Keith

This article was published July 17, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

VILONIA — The $13 million Vilonia Intermediate School, which was almost completed when it was destroyed April 27 by a tornado, has been named in honor of retired superintendent Frank Mitchell.

“It’s better than a gold watch,” Mitchell said.

He retired in June after 28 years in the district.

Vilonia Intermediate School, for grades four, five and six, was scheduled to open this fall with an enrollment of 725 to 750 students. Now the school is scheduled to open in August 2015, Mitchell said.

Vilonia School Board President Jerry Roberts said naming the school for Mitchell is something the board started discussing a year ago and finalized in June.

“Since it was his last meeting, we decided to go ahead and surprise him,” Roberts said. “He was really shocked.”

Mitchell said Roberts is right.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Mitchell said as he waited in the airport on his way to an

Alaskan cruise.

“It was really kind of at the end of the board meeting,” he said. “Something was said about it about a year ago, and … not a whole lot had been said about it. When you leave a place, I know, businesses and all, you get a gold watch. … This is something really lasting that will be there a long time, so I’m really proud of that.”

Roberts said Mitchell is deserving.

“He’s done good for us,” Roberts said. “He’s really been strong financially.”

Roberts said it is up to Mitchell to decide how he wants his name listed on the school. Roberts and others often call the retired administrator, who has a doctoral degree, Doc Mitchell.

Mitchell said he will discuss the name with architect Steve Elliott of Little Rock.

“I’ll probably just go with Frank Mitchell,” the retired superintendent said.

“I could call it Woodrow Cummins East,” he said, laughing. “I thought I’d aggravate Woody a little bit.”

Cummins, a former teacher and administrator in the Conway School District, was in banking when Mitchell came to Vilonia, Mitchell said. Cummins, who has an elementary school in Conway named after him, works at Stephens Inc.

David Stephens, the new Vilonia superintendent, said he thinks naming the school after Mitchell is a good idea.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Stephens said. “I think it’s a fitting tribute for all the years he’s given to this district.”

The intermediate school on Mount Olive Road was destroyed, and other buildings in the Vilonia district received damage, in the April 27 EF4-rated tornado that ripped through Faulkner County, killing 13, including two brothers who attended Vilonia Primary School.

The delay in opening the school has caused administrators to revamp the district in several areas.

For one, a grade reconfiguration that affected all schools will not take place until next year.

“We’re starting conversations about that now,” Stephens said.

Administrators who had been hired for the new school will still have jobs, he said.

“We will utilize them in different ways this next school year,” Stephens said.

The furniture that was ordered for the intermediate school “is being stored for free” by the company, Stephens said. Other orders were placed “on hold, and those companies are going to honor their bids.”

The demolition of the debris is finished, and the slab for the school can be utilized, which will save the district money, Stephens said.

“The latest report I have is that we’ll start seeing walls coming back up in August,” he said.

Nabholz Construction had insurance on the building and was responsible for the coverage because the school was not completed, Mitchell said in an earlier interview.

School-district patrons approved a 1-mill property-tax increase in 2012 to fund the construction project. The state kicked in approximately $9 million for the intermediate school, with the district footing the rest.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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