Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview
Overview of Fayetteville, AR

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mixed Feelings About Proposal for Fayetteville’s New High School

I have mixed feelings about the proposal to build a new high school for some 3,000 future students on the site of the existing high school in Fayetteville - and the 4.9 mill tax increase it will take to build it. Perhaps the best way to express my feelings is in the form of questions…

Given the current economic factors, what are the chances of taxpayers approving a measure that would increase their property taxes by almost $165 annually? The Washington County Assessor says taxes on an average house in Fayetteville (valued at $166,075) are currently $1425. The last time I checked, Fayetteville school taxes were the highest in NW Arkansas.

It’s expected those 4.9 mills will be on the tax bills for 30 years and when the economy improves and property values start increasing again, the $165 will go up in accordingly.

The strange thing about taxes is that they seldom if ever go down. By the time 30 years has passed no one seems to remember the increase was scheduled to stop. It’s usually a case of “Let’s continue those mils because we have many needs to fulfill.”

Fayetteville voters have, in recent years, been reluctant to pass millage increases. The largest millage increase passed by voters in the past 20+ years was 4% and many a proposal has been defeated.

Is it truly in the best interest of all parties to build the new school on the current site? I know public meetings were held with all sorts of factors and wishes considered but I sometimes think a better choice would be to build on a more level site to lower costs and remove disruptive construction activities while classes are in session.

I also think many taxpayers will readily recall the fact that the Fayetteville school board had the opportunity to sell the existing high school site to University of Arkansas for $50 million – money that would have gone a long way towards the cost of a new school at a different location and a much lower tax increase.

Fayetteville always wants something better than surrounding areas to set it apart - but at what cost? Is it really necessary to demolish the addition built in 1991 because to remodel it is not good enough for Fayetteville? Rogers used part of an existing site when it built a new high school and saved their taxpayers a good piece of change.

But the most interesting aspect of the entire proposal is this: $83 million to build the school but the school district is asking for $113 million – a difference of $30 million they say is needed for furnishings, specialized construction of classrooms, technology, staffing, and other operation costs.

Fayetteville’s proposal to build five smaller, friendlier buildings instead of one big building also adds to the cost plus the district says it will need more staffing for five buildings than it would for one large school.

Let’s look at the cost per student of Fayetteville’s proposal. At $83 million amount, that’s estimated to be $27,667 per student. At $113 million, that’s $37,667 per student. Springdale’s cost per student was $18,619, Rogers was $15,600 per student, and Bentonville came in at $17,534.

How much extra will it cost to make the new school LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) compliant? The LEED Council says schools built to their standards use approximately 1/3 less energy and water and create some 75% less solid waste. The Council estimates building to LEED standards adds about 2% to construction costs. Everyone is thinking about the environment these days and Fayetteville as a whole is trying to go ‘green,’ so the LEED certification certainly seems desirable.

No one wants higher property taxes but everyone wants the best school possible. Now that I’ve just written that sentence, it screams out at me – COMPROMISE! Let’s build the best school we can afford!

Fayetteville is a great place to live, work and raise a family but does it need the most expensive public school ever built in our state? I really have trouble justifying the money it will take to earn that distinction.

I think the district has much hard work ahead to sell this proposal to the taxpayers. There’s a lot to consider before the September election.

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