After months of anticipation and planning, two school districts in Faulkner County will soon start construction on new athletic facilities after community members voted yes during the February special election.
Early voting Feb. 5 to Election Day on Tuesday brought:
• A total of 352 votes, 283 for and 69 against on Greenbrier School District’s request for a restructuring of its current millage of 40.9 to build a new multi-purpose athletic facility and renovate the current one to allow for more uses as well as parking for both.
• A total of 168 votes, 151 votes yes and 17 no on Mayflower School District’s request to extend its millage to borrow nearly $6 million — $1.5 million for a new track and synthetic turf, $3.5 million for a new field house and bleachers and $500,000 for parking.
The Log Cabin Democrat spoke with both district superintendents, Greenbrier’s Scott Spainhour and Mayflower’s John Gray, on Wednesday.
Mayflower schools first announced its plan to ask the community for the extension back around November 2018.
Gray told the LCD then that the upgrade was something the district had been wanting to do for many years, but the main focus in the past 10-15 years had been Mayflower’s academic facilities, which have since received those needed renovations.
With that stage completed, Gray said it was time to address the need for new athletic amenities.
“I think it will help attract people to our community and help build our community,” he said.
Despite the positive feedback from the many he had spoken to, Gray told the LCD that attendance had continued to remain low during the several interest meetings the district had put together for the public to come in and ask questions about the extension request.
“Looks like we are building new athletic facilities for our students,” the Mayflower School District posted to its page post Tuesday’s election. “Thank you to the voters of Mayflower. It is appreciated.”
Gray told the LCD on Wednesday they were “very hopeful” that voters would support — through that yes vote, the extension was passed but residents will not see an increase in taxes — the new athletic facilities for the students. He said the first thing that came to his head when he found out the results, was saying “thank you” to the voters.
“They sent a loud message that these facilities were [needed] for the students,” he said. “Next, I was thinking about notifying everyone I could think of about the election results.”
Gray said it as also important to note the many that worked to make this happen including board president Pat Raney and other school administrators and staff who did a “great job” keeping the public informed.
He added that the community has been “traditionally” supportive of the district and several even worked hard to get the word out as well.
“I know this sounds like it just a facilities for students, and it is,” Gray said. “It is also a great facility for our community and will help strengthen Mayflower by making [it] a more pleasant place to be.”
He said he’s not sure if everyone truly grasps the impact that the new facility will have on both the students and the district’s community.
“The future of Mayflower is looking good,” Gray said.
The superintendent recognized the hard work of everyone and said the yes votes that came in did not go unnoticed and were “very much appreciated.”
“I also feel it reflects positive support for our school board and school administration and school teachers and staff,” Gray said.
The next step in the process, he said, will be to work with Mayflower’s fiscal agents to sell the bonds needed and get the load established and finalized. He said if all goes well with that, they should have the finances in place by April,
“Next is to finalize plans with the architect,” Gray said. “The architect contract has been approved by the [board] and the final designing is to be done. Next a builder has to be selected [and] then the project construction to start in the summer.”
He said it should be about a 12 -month project and by summer 2020, Mayflower should have the facilities finished.
As to how this would affect the flow of school, Gray said they would have to have next year’s football games at a different location but are working on ideas for that.
“I am looking forward to building an efficient, quality facility the community will be proud of,” he said. “Let’s get to work.”
The LCD also had the opportunity to sit down with Superintendent Spainhour a few weeks before early voting started.
One point he frequently visited during that meeting was that if voters did approve the restructuring, taxes would not be raised, noting the importance of understanding the district was only asking to restructure current debt and the millage rate of 40.9 — which goes out for 27 years — would not change.
Spainhour, along with athletic director Stephen Wood, walked the LCD through Greenbrier’s revamp plans.
The current field house contains football dressing and meeting rooms and weight room.
Wood told the LCD with the addition, they would move all of those to the new facility and add batting cages for the baseball and softball teams, an indoor athletic field, training rooms and more.
For the old, Wood said they’ll renovate that to provide locker rooms to the the men’s and women’s soccer and track teams plus a wrestling team locker room and mat room.
“They’ll have their own dressing facilities for the first time,” he said. “It’s going to address a whole lot of needs that we have.”
Spainhour said the improvements and new areas was something Greenbrier — both the school and its community — had been wanting to do for awhile, but just like Mayflower, had chosen to put the academics first and improve the district’s schools.
“Community members for a long time and my coaches, right, they [saw] the value in it,” he said. “They’ve wanted it for a long, long time [and] then of course, my answer always was, ‘we’ve got some other needs we’ve got to address first.’”
In the past 10 years that Spainhour has worked for Greenbrier, the district has spent about $60 million: around $8 million for Wooster Elementary, around $7 million for the new fine arts building, around $8 million for the middle school, around $3.5 million for the new gym, around $2 million for the addition of 10 classrooms, $15 million for the development of Springhill Elementary, $8 million for the new junior high and $1 million for an additional science lab.
In total, the project at Greenbrier will come to around $6 million.
“Our community is, and has been for a long time, incredibly supportive of the schools,” Spainhour said. “It makes us all so proud.”
As to the district’s next step with this project, the superintendent said they hope to get that first bid package out to start on the dirt work in the next two weeks.
“So much depends [on] lead time for materials it’s hard to say when it will be complete, however, we do believe it will be finished sometime in the fall,” Spainhour told the LCD. “We will have to make some adjustments with parking at the high school and with the spring sports but things should continue to operate smoothly.”
He said when he found out the positive results on Tuesday night, relief hit and then appreciation for Greenbrier’s support.
“I’m most excited for all of our student athletes who will be able to utilize the great spaces we're creating,” Gray said.
The Log Cabin Democrat will continue to follow the progress on both projects as next steps unfold.