HEBER SPRINGS — The auditorium under construction at Heber Springs High School is “a gift from the community” and will be shared with residents, Superintendent Russell Hester said.
“It’s on our campus, but it’s our community’s building,” Hester said.
By a slim margin in September, school patrons approved a 3.4-mill property-tax increase in the school election to fund three projects in a $12 million building project: a performing-arts complex at the high school, a new entrance and security measures for the elementary school; and an expansion of the high school cafeteria.
The proposal passed by just 20 votes, 591 to 571.
The performing-arts complex is estimated to cost about $7 million of that amount, Hester said. The auditorium will have 1,000 seats, “plus or minus another 10 [seats]. It depends on the configuration.”
Hester said community groups will utilize the facility, too.
“We’re all in this together, and if they hadn’t voted [for] it, we wouldn’t have it,” the superintendent said.
The site work is done, and the building is on track to be open “around Thanksgiving 2015,” he said.
“Dirt work and all the excavating and all that have taken the majority of the summer,” he said.
The facility will be used for band, choir, drama and speech, as well as other programs that now use the school cafeteria.
“We’re fulfilling some really, really serious needs that our curriculum has not had in the past,” he said. “We have no place on campus, really, to have anything that requires any nice sound, visual, any type of speakers. Everything we do now has to be done in our high school cafeteria. We have been behind as far as those parts of our curriculum.”
Hester said the band has excelled in spite of the lack of building space.
“The band has done great in the facility it has had,” he said. “We’re as good as any Class 4A band in the state, but they’ve had to work in a room built for 50, and we push 100 a lot.”
The high school cafeteria is overcrowded, too, Hester said, but that project is on hold.
“Some materials that had to be on-site the first day of summer just could not get here. Underground utilities, water, sewer, electricity — all those utilities — had to work and get their stuff done, and we just didn’t get that done in time,” Hester said.
“During the school year, we’re going to back off of that,” he said. “We can’t go into the school year with the cafeteria in disarray.
“Next summer, all the pre-construction work will be done, and we’ll jump in there. Next May, we’ll jump in there and do the demolition, tear down the east wall — enlarge that.”
It can’t happen too soon, Hester said.
“There are 550 now enrolled in high school, and we split our lunches,” he said. “Right now, it’s just cram-packed.”
The current cafeteria seats “about 250. We’re going to hopefully seat 325,” he said.
The third project is beefing up security at the elementary school, which includes a new entrance.
Visitors to the school will check in by notifying a secretary at a desk behind a sliding-glass window. The secretary will approve visitors before opening a second door.
“They will have to pass by a secretary, and the secretary can buzz people into the building. She’ll be the first person they’ll see,” Hester said.
Guests will have to walk by the school resource officer’s office, too.
“Before, they didn’t even have to walk by our elementary office. We just did not know who was in our building,” Hester said.
“That project is probably 90 percent finished; it will be completed by Aug. 11, knock on wood,” Hester said. School will start Aug. 18.
Board member Al Thomas said increased security at the school is something “voters impressed on us.” The district is considering a third resource officer for the campus, Thomas said.
In addition, as many as 145 cameras will be added in elementary school through high school.
“We’ll have a lot more complete coverage of our campus,” Hester said.
“The biggest majority will be [in the elementary school],” Hester said. “We already had some cameras at the middle school and high school. We’re going to add more to them. Our elementary [school] has never had a good set of cameras.”
Hester said the voters deserve the credit for the district being able to undertake the projects.
“We want to be good stewards” of the money, he said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.