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story.lead_photo.caption Mayflower Superintendent John Gray holds a poster showing the architectural drawing of the proposed field house that will be built if voters approve extending a 15.5 debt-service millage in a Feb. 12 election. The project also includes installing artificial turf on the football field, renovating the bleachers, resurfacing the track and improving parking. Gray said academics has been a priority in the district for many years, and the athletic facilities are lagging behind. - Photo by Staci Vandagriff

Mayflower Superintendent John Gray said the district has “focused totally on academics” for the past 12 years, but it’s time to upgrade its athletic facilities.

A special election is scheduled for Feb. 12 to extend the Mayflower School District’s 15.5 debt-service millage for another 13 years to fund a new field house, install synthetic turf on the football field and resurface the track.

“We’ve let our athletic facilities slide,” Gray said.

The field-house project will include home seating, stadium restrooms, Eagle and visitor locker rooms, a weight room, a training room, coaches’ offices, a resurfaced track and new turf.

The field house and track were built in the 1970s, Gray said. The track is “very, very, very worn.”

The field-house project is estimated to cost $3.5 million, and the turf and track improvements another $1 million, Gray said. Architects are Jackson Brown Palculit

of Little Rock. Parking improvements are estimated to cost another $500,000.

“Our plan is to take out the visitors’ bleachers and put in a two-story field house, and on the roof will be home bleachers over there.”

The visitors’ bleachers will be on the existing home side, where old concrete bleachers are now.

The track team “has done well over the years,” Gray said, and the Mayflower Eagles football team has a record of 23-3 for the past two seasons.

Gray said the board of education voted unanimously to hold an election to extend the millage.

“They’re all for it and genuinely for it,” he said.

Board President Pat Raney said the project is long overdue. He can remember as a 10-year-old watching the stadium being built.

“It was the early ’70s when I was out there and watched the first bulldozer unload and start carving out a football field for the kids of our community,” he said.

It was named Patrick Stadium for longtime school-board member and president Jim Patrick, who is deceased.

“This facility is pretty much the same facility from back in those days,” Raney said. “This is just a great opportunity for us to give the kids in our district what other kids through the state have.”

Raney said Mayflower is the only public high school in Faulkner County that doesn’t have artificial turf.

Gray said youth teams can play on the synthetic turf, too, which will be beneficial.

He said Mayflower can’t host track events with other schools “because it’s not a safe surface.”

“It’s like running on asphalt,” Gray said. “It’s very hard and rough, and it’s cracking.”

With the new facilities, Mayflower could be a host for at least a district track meet, Raney said. “In our 3A classification, there are not a lot of schools around that can host things like that,” he said.

Gray and Raney said that in addition to providing better facilities for the students, the community will benefit from the project.

“It’s more than just something for our kids; it’s a community event center out there,” Raney said. “We have people come out and use the walking track. It’s amazing how many people do come out now and walk.”

Lighting will be improved, and the new weight room could be a sort of fitness center for Mayflower residents on some nights when the coaches open it to the community.

“Ultimately, that’s who’s paying for it for us,” he said of residents.

The superintendent said the feedback from the community on the millage extension has been positive.

“We’re getting a lot of good support from our community; people understand that we need to upgrade our facilities,” he said.

Gray said the project will be a boost in economic development, too.

“Having pristine, classy-looking facilities will help attract people to our community as well,” he said.

Raney said Mayflower’s struggles — the Exxon Mobil oil pipeline rupture in March 2013 and a deadly tornado in April 2014 — have been well-documented.

“We’ve had bad situations: the oil spill and the tornado. We’ve endured those and made the best of what we could. … It’s time we go in and make these changes for the kids,” he said.

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

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