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story.lead_photo.caption The classroom building addition to Pulaski County Special School District’s Sylvan Hills High School in Sherwood is to open to students next month. - Photo by Cynthia Howell

Sylvan Hills High School in Sherwood will be about 30 classrooms and 135,000 square feet bigger when school starts Aug. 13 than it was when classes ended in May.

Construction of a new multisided academic building, including a cafeteria and media center, is an effort to right-size a campus that has seen its student body jump from 825 in 2010-11 to 1,427 this past year -- increases that initially pushed ninth-graders and then ninth- and 10th-graders 5 miles away to the former Northwood Middle School site on Bamboo Lane. Tenth-graders will return to the home campus next month.

The recent enrollment growth at the Pulaski County Special School District campus is largely because of new neighborhoods in the Sherwood area. But it's also fueled by the 2016 detachment of the new Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District from the Pulaski County Special School District. Students who live within the reconfigured Pulaski County Special School District boundaries can no longer be assigned to Jacksonville High or North Pulaski High schools, which were once part of the Pulaski County Special School District.

The new Sylvan Hills building -- just south of the 1967-constructed Sylvan Hills High building on Bear Paw Road, which is still very much in use -- will bring the capacity of the campus to 2,200.

On the heels of the academic building to open to students Aug. 13 will be the completion of an indoor practice facility in January, and then an arena for 2,200 and a 999-seat fine arts center in the fall of 2020.

"It's going to be a beautiful campus and a beautiful layout," said Tracy Allen, who is not only the Sylvan Hills High principal but also a Sylvan Hills High graduate and the father of a Sylvan Hills 11th-grader.

Much of the new building is a three-story L-shaped structure of classrooms and offices.

Attached to that is a two-story extension made up of a first-floor kitchen and student dining area on the ground floor and the second-story media center -- a loft area overlooking the cafeteria.

The exterior of the new building is a mix of brick, metal panel, and a commercial stucco-type material in shades of brown, bronze and gray, all meant to tie into the buff brick color of the existing school building, said Russ Fason, an architect with WER Architects/Planners.

WER was the architecture firm for the project, and Baldwin & Shell Construction is doing the building. The Pulaski County Special School District is paying for the project with the proceeds of a property tax rate extension that district voters approved in 2017. The extended levy of the 14.8 debt-service mills by 13 years to 2043 is enabling the district to pay off over time the $65 million cost of the project.

The new building is one of three public school buildings coming online next month in Pulaski County, which has been undergoing a school building boom in recent years.

An all-new Jacksonville High in the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School district is to open, as is LISA Academy North's new secondary education building in Sherwood. The Little Rock School District will open a new high school in August 2020. The Pulaski County Special district opened a new Mills High, a new Robinson Middle and a remodeled Mills Middle School, which replaced the now-demolished Fuller Middle School, about this time last summer.

The Mills and Fuller projects, in particular, were done to help meet the Pulaski County Special district's obligations in a long-running federal school desegregation lawsuit. Those obligations include making the district's older schools that serve high percentages of black students comparable with its newer schools -- Chenal Elementary, Maumelle Middle and Maumelle High School, and Sylvan Hills Middle School -- in more affluent communities that have larger white populations.

In contrast to the 1960s-era Sylvan Hills building and to the delight of the Sylvan Hills faculty, Allen said, the new building includes windows.

"Our teachers are looking forward to having classrooms with windows in them," Allen said. "In our current building none of the classrooms have windows, and in this building every classroom, with the exception of one, has windows."

In addition to the classroom windows, there are larger expanses of decorative windows made up of different-sized rectangular panes and tinted color -- a modern stained-glass effect.

"We used three different tints of glass to give it some interest," Fason said of the walls of decorative glass that not only set off the school's new entrance but also make up two walls of the cafeteria, as well as the ends of classroom building hallways.

The school's two-story, glass-fronted main entry faces the south. New administrative offices are to the immediate left of the front doors.

Directly across from the front doors is a wide expanse of "monumental" stairs that serve as both access between floors and as a commons area, or a space in which students can gather.

To the left of the stairs is a seminar room that is larger than regular classrooms and equipped with technology and screens for group presentations.

"Another thing we are really looking forward to in the front entry area will be our school store, Bear Necessities," Allen said.

The store, with the name that plays off the school's Bears mascot, will include a fully functioning coffee shop and will serve as the site for the sale of snacks, school supplies and other merchandise.

"Students design and make our T-shirts and then print them up and sell them here from the school," Allen said.

The store will be completely run by students as part of a business education course.

The new first-floor dining area features multiple food serving lines. The dining area opens to the east -- to a new courtyard where students can gather and where buses will drop students off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon, Fason said.

The courtyard and the dining area are situated so as to be convenient to students in both the new building where core subjects will be taught and also the older building that will house many of the elective courses.

There is much to admire about the new building, Allen said, noting that teachers and students were consulted about the building features in the early days of the architectural planning.

"The thing I am personally most excited about is on the third level where we have math and science classes," Allen said. "We are going from a school that had one fully functional science lab and now we will have eight fully functional labs.

"It's going to be awesome for our students to take advantage of that," he said.

The science classrooms with their water and gas hookups, tables and cabinetry are larger than standard classrooms -- as required by state school building standards. Most of them include an attached room for teacher preparation and a chemical storage room.

Metro on 07/14/2019

Print Headline: Central Arkansas school set to debut addition


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Archived Comments

  • NoUserName
    July 14, 2019 at 12:44 p.m.

    That comes out to nearly $500 per square foot. Am I missing something? That is WELL above the average cost per square foot for high school construction.

    July 14, 2019 at 6:32 p.m.

    Does the $65million include furnishings and debt service?