Farmington board backs new junior high school over third elementary school


FARMINGTON -- The Farmington School District will look toward building a new junior high school for eighth and ninth grades on land it has purchased near the high school on Arkansas 170.

In a special meeting Sept. 12, the School Board gave the OK for school administrators to proceed with a new junior high building, instead of a third elementary school, which has been on the district's master facilities list for about six years.

The board voted about one year ago to purchase 27 acres at the intersection of Arkansas 170 and Clyde Carnes Road for $945,000 from Riggins Construction and Developers for a new school.

Part of the process for a new school will be applying for approval from the facilities division with Arkansas Department of Education and requesting partnership money to help pay for construction.

Superintendent Jon Laffoon and Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Pinkerton both recommended a new junior high building to School Board members.

A demographic study conducted for the district in 2022 shows that Farmington will have space problems at the middle school in 2027 and space problems at the high school during the 2027-28 school year.

"So my question," Laffoon said, "is how can we build one facility right now that will limit having to add onto the middle school and the high school?"

His recommendation is to use Folsom and Williams as primary elementary schools for pre-K through second grade. Lynch Middle School would become an upper elementary school for third and fourth grades. The current junior high would change to a middle school for fifth through seventh grades, and a new junior high on Arkansas 170 would take care of eighth and ninth grades.

Farmington High would remain a school for grades 10 through 12. The district may still have to add six to eight classrooms at the high school, Laffoon said, depending on how fast enrollment grows by 2028 and 2029.

Laffoon said he believes a new junior high and reconfiguring the schools would give the district the least construction and be the most responsible way of spending tax dollars.

If the board decided instead to build a third elementary school, the district still would have to add onto the middle school and high school at additional costs, Laffoon said.

Presently, Farmington does not have what is called a suitability need for more space based on the state's projections for student growth. Suitability need means the district does not have enough space for the number of projected students.

Pinkerton told board members the state sees Farmington as having 79,000 square feet of excess footage right now: 12,000 at Williams and Folsom, 23,000 at the middle school and 30,000 at the junior high.

She said the state just looks at mandated classes and does not consider rooms as being used if classes such as gifted and talented, EAST or STEAM are in those spaces. The state considers those empty rooms.

"But if you look, there is something in every room," Laffoon said.

By reconfiguring grades at the schools, that will improve the suitability need for a new junior high building, Laffoon said, adding it is estimated an elementary school would cost $16 million-$18 million and a junior high would cost about $24 million.

Laffoon last week said the state's projected enrollment for Farmington is "woefully low." The state projected Farmington would have an enrollment of about 2,719 students for the 2023-24 school year. The school's enrollment was 2,842 students last week.

He said the district has asked the state to consider the demographic study and to reconsider its enrollment projections for Farmington. The school has since been notified that it is on the list as one of the fastest growing districts and the state will reconfigure enrollment projections.

Laffoon said the district is hopeful the state will find Farmington has a suitability need and it will be approved for partnership money for a new junior high.

Pinkerton also said she believes Farmington's best chance at receiving partnership money is to build a new junior high.

Board member Amy Hill said she agreed with a new junior high on the Arkansas 170 land. She said it made more sense to have junior high students next to the high school, versus elementary kids.

Board member Lori Blew, a retired Farmington teacher, said she also liked having third and fourth grades together in the same school.

Laffoon said discussion on the proposed master facilities plan and a new junior high would continue at the board's Sept. 25 meeting. If approved by the state, construction would start during the 2025-26 school year with an anticipated completion date of August 2027.

Other capital projects on the master facilities list include a new roof for Williams, Folsom and Lynch and a safe room at the high school. A new roof for Williams has been approved by the facilities division but has not received any state funding.