County Seeing School Growth Of $71 Million

by Jamie Walden  on Monday, Aug. 18, 2008 12:00 am  

Steve Hickman, superintendent of Episcopal Collegiate, and Jeanne Joyner, president of the board of trustees, stand at the site of what will be the new kindergarten through fifth-grade school.

Breaking Ground

Arkansas Baptist's 30,000-SF expansion is the largest capital project in the school's 27-year history. Superintendent Arthur Bennett said the existing campus, at 62 Pleasant Valley Drive in west Little Rock, was originally built to comfortably hold about 320 students, but enrollment has now climbed to 355 students.

Bennett said that while it may not be an ideal time to expand because of high construction costs and other economic constraints, the school has simply run out of space. However, Bennett said he's certain that the economy will bounce back.

The first phase of the two-story building that will be added on to the existing building will be able to house 420. The second phase should add about another 40 spots. Bennett said that the school could fit more students in the building - and still meet fire code regulations - but prefers not to do so.

Bennett said the whole project would add about 130 seats.

By 2010, Bennett said, he expects the campus to house more than 400 students.

"We get a big influx of students from public schools in middle school," Bennett said.

In his experience with Arkansas Baptist, Bennett said that the lateral movement of students between private schools tends to even out.

Families who relocate to Little Rock contribute significantly to the school's enrollment, Bennett said. The school's Web site has been the biggest tool for attracting new families, he added.

Bennett doesn't pretend Arkansas Baptist is unscathed by the economy, though. Its enrollment has declined by 2 to 3 percent.

"I've talked to schools all across the country. All private schools are seeing parents that are pulling their students out because they can't afford to pay [tuition]. But the key is: How many new students do you bring into your school?"

The number of new students entering the school hasn't dropped, which Bennett said surprised him.



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