The Melbourne School District intends to build a new high school facility and is asking district residents to pick up a portion of the tab.
At a meeting June 27, Melbourne Superintendent Gerald Cooper said the current high school and gym are outdated and will not accommodate all high school students in the district once the annexation with the Mount Pleasant School District is complete.
"As a graduate of the Melbourne school system, a former principal for the school, and as the current superintendent, it is my opinion that this is the best option we have," said Cooper. "I'm 100 percent for this project for our students and the entire community."
Consultant Jack Truemper with Stephens Inc. in Little Rock said the new 105,844-square-foot facility will cost between $6.5 and $7 million to build.
To pay for the school, Cooper said voters in the Melbourne School District will have to approve an 8.95 mill increase Sept. 20. He said it would raise the current millage rate in the Melbourne School District from 30.35 to 39.30.
The amount of the increase could be decreased to 6.45 mills and then 5.95 within a few years if the district is able to curb building expenses, Cooper said.
"Raising taxes isn't popular, but the students really need this," Cooper said.
He said a loophole in a law passed in 2003 by the Arkansas Legislature allows school boards to raise millages without voter approval for maintenance and essential operations.
Cooper said neither the Melbourne School District nor the former Mount Pleasant School District has raised the millage using the loophole.
"I think that shows good faith on our part," Cooper said.
To offset costs for the new high school a not-for-profit-group, the Melbourne Industrial Development Corporation, has donated 57 acres adjacent to the Cooper-Hawk Golf course, said Melbourne Mayor Mike Cone.
Cone said the value of the property is approximately $200,000.
Cooper said the Melbourne and Mount Pleasant school districts received $750,000 in incentive money from the state for annexing last year. He said the donated land and incentive money will be used to offset building costs.
The new school will offer state-of-the art classrooms, new science labs, a 600-seat cafeteria, a 1,200-seat gymnasium and a 300-seat student union conference room, Cooper said.
Not only will the new high school provide a better learning experience, Cooper said, it will be more convenient to the Mount Pleasant students.
The current high school sits on Highway 9 on the north end of town whereas the new school would be situated on the south end of town, approximately 6 miles closer to Mount Pleasant.
"That will cut down on travel time for students coming over here," Cooper said.
Architect Bob Bailey with Bailey and Associates Architectural Firm in Little Rock is designing the new school.
Because of Acts 2139 and 2138 passed by the Arkansas Legislature earlier this spring up to 46 percent of the costs for the academic portions of the new school project could be reimbursed, Truemper said.
Cooper said the 900 student school district created by the merger of the Melbourne School District and the Mount Pleasant School District makes building a new school a top priority.
"I don't think we can house that many students in 1967 model school and a 1952 model gym," Cooper said.
The two school districts were joined last year in order to comply with Act 60 which was passed by the Legislature in 2003. Act 60 mandates that all schools with fewer than 350 students be annexed or consolidate with a larger school district.
In its landmark Lakeview ruling in 2002, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that students in the state were not receiving the same educational opportunities from district to district. Act 60 was passed as a partial remedy to that ruling, Cooper said.
The Mount Pleasant School District had 312 students when it joined with the Melbourne School District last year.
He said by annexing the Mount Pleasant School District, the Melbourne School District may save itself from forced consolidation in the future if the Legislatures raises the enrollment number at a later date.