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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVE PEROZEK The gymnasium at Gravette Middle School is seen Friday. It serves as the high school's competition gym. Gravette School District officials say the gym, built in 1992, is too small for the district's current needs. Proceeds from a 2.5-mill tax request on the May 22 ballot would pay for construction of a gym at the high school and other facility improvements if voters approve the request.

GRAVETTE -- The School District will ask voters to support a property tax increase this spring to pay for elementary, middle and high school facility improvements.

The proposed 2.5-mill increase would generate about $12.8 million in revenue. The district is committing another $1 million from its building fund for the projects.

School Projects

Here are the estimated cost of planned improvements if Gravette voters approve a 2.5-mill tax increase.

• Construction of a new high school gymnasium — $10,514,250

• Addition of career and technical education classrooms — $1,500,000

• Renovation of Duffy Elementary School — $446,996

• Remodeling of a classroom wing at Gravette Middle School — $960,767

Total: $13,422,013

Source: Gravette School District

Most of the money would go toward a new gymnasium at the high school, estimated to cost $10.5 million.

Another $2.9 million would pay for remodeling projects at Duffy Elementary School and Gravette Middle School and the addition of career and technical classrooms at the technical center, according to documents provided by Superintendent Richard Page.

The election is set for May 22, the same day as the preferential primary elections, school board elections and nonpartisan judicial elections. The owner of a $100,000 home would pay an additional $50 per year in taxes if Gravette's request passes.

Gravette's millage rate of 37.2 is the lowest among the 15 school districts in Benton and Washington counties. The 2.5-mill increase would bump its rate to second lowest. The last time the district passed a millage increase was in March 2007.

The competition gymnasium is on the middle school campus and was built in 1992 with a capacity of 1,100. That is inadequate to accommodate the number of people at school events and not large enough to host district tournaments, Page said.

The district reported enrollment of 1,909 last fall, an increase of 144 students, or 8.1 percent, from 10 years earlier.

The only gym at the high school is a practice gym. The new gym would be added to the back of the high school, Page said.

The tax increase would provide $1.5 million to expand the district's career and technical building by 12,500 square feet. Space will be added for automotive service technology and advanced manufacturing classes for secondary students during the day and post-secondary students at night, according to documents.

The district offers classes in welding; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; and machining through Northwest Technical Institute on its campus. Students enrolled in the programs also come from Bentonville, Gentry, Decatur and Siloam Springs districts.

Getting to and from Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale for classes during the day is impractical for high school students from western Benton County because of the time it takes, said Blake Robertson, the institute's president. That's why the institute has a satellite campus in Gravette.

The Bentonville, Decatur, Gentry and Gravette districts discussed building and jointly operating a career center. Page led the effort, but the plan fell apart last fall after the Bentonville School Board balked at the building's projected price tag of $21 million.

Bentonville had considered the career center a potential home for its Ignite program, which immerses students in real experiences in a professional environment with support from a facilitating teacher and professional mentors. Now the district plans to build an addition onto West High School for the Ignite program at an estimated cost of $3.6 million.

"We couldn't ever come to an agreement on where to build it, how to build it, how we're going to pay for it," Page said about the career center.

Robertson said, "Gravette has really stepped up and said, 'Let us be the leader.' So I compliment them for doing that. That's very progressive leadership."

Also included in the millage package is remodeling of an undeveloped wing at Gravette Middle School to provide more space for elective classes.

Duffy Elementary School's administration office would be moved to the entryway, creating a safer entrance to the school. Floor tiles would be replaced, heating and air conditioning would be added to the multipurpose room, and an extra faculty restroom would be built, according to district documents.

Gravette is the fourth Benton County school district to seek a millage increase since last year. The Bentonville and Rogers districts won increases of 1.9 mills and 3.5 mills, respectively, on May 9. Pea Ridge got a 3.9-mill increase for a new high school on Feb. 13, nine months after voters rejected a 5.1-mill increase for the same purpose.

The neighboring districts' recent success doesn't make Page any more confident about Gravette's millage election outcome. That's because all three of those districts won millage increases in special elections, whereas Gravette's election will be held in conjunction with others.

"We can't gauge how we will do based on anybody," Page said. "It will pass or fail on our own merit."

Page was encouraged by results of an unscientific, online survey earlier this year that showed 92 percent of about 400 respondents supported the projects outlined in this millage campaign.

Kurt Maddox, Gravette's mayor, didn't say whether he was supporting the millage request, but said he's a "big proponent" of the technical and career center. He also said the gymnasium is old, and it would be nice to have a new one.

Fred Overstreet, president of the Gravette Chamber of Commerce, said he wasn't informed on the millage request yet and therefore wouldn't comment.

Gravette's last attempt at a millage increase, which would have helped pay for a new elementary school and additional classrooms at the high school, was in September 2014. It failed by a wide margin.

NW News on 04/16/2018

Print Headline: Gravette School District seeks tax increase

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