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FORT SMITH — In the face of cold and rainy weather, Fort Smith School District officials gathered inside Northside High School on Monday afternoon for a groundbreaking to celebrate the beginning of some significant construction and renovation projects.

Fort Smith School District Deputy Superintendent Terry Morawski said on Thursday that among these projects are a new secure entry and office area in the front of the school and a ninth-grade center that will include classrooms, science labs and administrative space to allow the school district to move its ninth-graders from its junior high schools to its high school environment. The kitchen and cafeteria space at the school will also be expanded to accommodate these additional ninth graders.

The projects include a new competition gym, two tornado shelters, and some renovated classroom and support space, Morawski said.

The total budget estimate for the construction and renovation projects, Morawski said, is $38.1 million. Of this figure, an estimated $12.6 million is for renovations and additions, which include the ninth-grade center. Another $12.3 million is for the competition gym and a total of $3.9 million is for the tornado shelters. The remaining amount, about $9 million, is for civil work, which includes parking, utilities and consultant fees for things such as architects and program management.

“There’s actually a pretty significant additional parking project that’s part of this as well,” Morawski said. “With the addition of the ninth graders, there’s a need for parking, and the new competition gym would also be located on top of an existing parking lot, so we need to replace that parking as well, so we have purchased some property that’s contiguous to the current Northside site and we’ll be developing the new parking lots on that land.”

Morawski said these projects will encompass about 133,000 square feet of new and renovated space for Northside High School.

Northside High School Principal Keri Rathbun on Thursday said she thinks the projects are going to lead to more opportunities for students.

“Of course, we’re going to bring those freshmen up and we’re very excited about that, to get them on our campus earlier and to get them acclimated to high school,” Rathbun said.

rity. In addition, the competition gym will allow the school to host state tournaments, while the expanded cafeteria will enable it to not only offer more food choices, but also give students a better place to hang out.

The enrollment for Northside High School on Thursday, according to Rathbun, was 1,819 students.

The construction contractor for these projects is Nabholz Construction, Morawski said. MAHG Architecture Inc. served as the renovation and addition architect while Hight Jackson Associates was the architect for the competition gym and tornado shelters.

Morawski said Northside High School also had a building committee that met several times to review designs for the projects and give input on them. Project feedback was also elicited from others, such as the Fort Smith School Board and school staff.

Fall 2021 is the targeted completion date for these projects, according to Morawski. The funding for them came from a property tax increase that was approved by Fort Smith and Barling residents in May 2018.

This increase, which moved the school district property tax rate by 5.558 mills from 36.5 to 42.058, will generate a total of about $120 million for multiple projects in the school district. It was the first millage increase in Fort Smith since 1987.

A groundbreaking for construction and renovation projects taking place at Fort Smith’s Southside High School was held Oct. 28. Morawski previously said these projects, which have a budget estimate of about $45 million, encompass more than 150,000 square feet of new and renovated space for that school.

The projects at both schools, Morawski said, are in accordance with Vision 2023, a five-year strategic plan that was approved by the Fort Smith School Board in December 2017 and includes seven areas of focus. These areas, according to the Vision 2023 strategic plan summary available on the Fort Smith School District website, consist of career planning, equity, instruction, learning environment and facilities, staffing, technology, and wellness.

Photo by Thomas Saccente
Keri Rathbun
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