North Little Rock Schools in the Middle Of a $223 Million Makeover

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 12:00 am  

North Little Rock School District’s $223 million capital improvement project is underway, and when both phases are done, much of the district’s 50-plus-year-old infrastructure will be replaced.

“This project has been coming into place for the last good four years,” said Gerald Cound, director of facilities management for the district.

The need was great for the district, Cound said — many of the buildings were showing their age.

“For the most part, these facilities have all been in place for over 50 years,” Cound said. “So it was time. And so this is a statement from the community that they’re going to continue to support their public schools.”

The project’s total cost was originally estimated to be $265 million, said NLRSD’s chief financial officer, Denise Drennan, and the district hoped to get $66 million of that from the Arkansas Department of Education.

But state officials deemed that Lakewood Middle School was not in need of replacement, reducing the overall cost by about $42 million. And ultimately, the district got about $25 million in state assistance.

Cound said the district set its “expectations pretty high,” but the project organizers have since been able to make up for that early shortcoming, and the outline still resembles what was set forth early on. Still, the project was initially slowed.

“We had hoped to get our projects off the ground probably two to three months earlier than we managed to get them off the ground,” Cound said.

Eventually, the project found funding from three additional sources: district savings, a millage increase and some bond issues.

School consolidation is expected to save $8.3 million annually, savings that will help pay for the construction. But the biggest piece of the funding came from a 7.4-mill increase in the district property tax levy, which was approved by district voters in February 2012.

Bonds totaling $135 million have already been issued, and another bond issue may be necessary depending on how some of the projects progress through the winter.

“The one we have will get us through the current fiscal year,” Drennan said.



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