School Construction Projects Total $527M

School Construction Projects Total $527M
Little Rock’s Lacey K-8 Academy is expected to be finished in January 2024. (Rendering provided)

Public and private school construction projects underway in Arkansas total $527.51 million, a 74% increase from the total on last year’s list of commercial construction projects. 

The 28 school projects for grades K-12 on the Arkansas Business list range from new schools to safe rooms on school campuses.

Last year’s list featured 21 public and private school projects with a total valuation of $302.5 million.

Nationwide, spending on educational projects totaled $96.7 billion in September, an increase of 1.4% from the same time a year ago, according to an Associated Builders & Contractors analysis of data published by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Total nonresidential spending for the month was $883.9 billion, up 9.2% from the previous year.

“Many projects under construction in America began prior to the rapid increase in borrowing costs that started earlier this year,” ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu said in a Nov. 1 news release, predicting that contractors who focus on public construction could fare better than those in segments more vulnerable to economic trends.

Arkansas’ costliest current school project is the Dr. Marian G. Lacey K-8 Academy for the Little Rock School District. At $87.2 million, it’s No. 5 on the list. The new school replaces John L. McClellan High School and features 235,000 SF, three stories and 64 classrooms. 

Designed by Cromwell Architects Engineers Inc. of Little Rock, it will have eight spaces for fine arts, six project rooms for science and one of the first tornado shelters in the district. 

The school, at 9417 Geyer Springs Road, sits on 14 acres and will be built for more than 1,400 students. 

The project has been largely free of complications and is scheduled to open in January 2024. Clark Contractors LLC of Little Rock is the contractor. 

The Springdale School District has three projects on the list, totaling $133 million. Its Central Junior High addition, which includes renovations, is the largest with a $52.66 million valuation. Next is a $46.83 million project at Southwest Junior High that includes additions and renovations. Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. of Little Rock is undertaking both. The Springdale High School classroom building and physical education complex is a $33.55 million job being handled by Flintco LLC of Springdale.

Other school construction ventures are going beyond the classroom. 

In the Pulaski County School District, a $15.8 million project to improve Maumelle High School’s athletic facilities is being built by Kinco Constructors of Little Rock. 

“The district was the beneficiary of a bond restructure, and they allocated quite a bit of money to catch us up with athletic facilities ... comparable to others in the district,” said Kirk Horton, the school’s athletic director. 

Additions will include a track, an indoor practice facility and baseball and softball fields with turf infields and grass outfields. 

“When this place was originally built in 2011, they did not build a track, and they did not have playable baseball and softball [fields],” Horton said. “So we’ve been having to run our track meets all on the road.” Baseball and softball games have been played at the community park.

The project was designed by WDD Architects of North Little Rock and is expected to be ready for use in August. 

Safe Rooms

Safe room projects are also under construction. The Harmony Grove district in Saline County is building one for $4.9 million, with Little Rock’s Kinco Constructors as contractor. 

A safe room is a fortified space to provide a haven during tornadoes or other threats, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

“A lot of school districts have started adding safe rooms to their existing facilities,” said Jodi Phillips, a project manager at Nabholz Construction Corp. of Conway. Safe rooms are also being added to new school projects. 

Nabholz is building a $1.9 million safe room for the Searcy County School District in Marshall. The precast concrete room measures 38 feet long and 92 feet wide, Phillips said. 

It will provide an additional dining space and perhaps be used for special classes, Phillips said. The stand-alone building will hold about 500 students. Modus Studio of Fayetteville designed it, and the project is expected to be completed in January.