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Since December, construction totaling more than $225 million has been completed on some of the largest K-12 projects in Arkansas. Work on elementary, middle and high school campuses totaling millions of dollars more is ongoing across the state.
“That’s been a big part of our work portfolio as of late,” said Doug Wasson, CEO of Little Rock’s Kinco Constructors LLC.
Fourteen of the largest active K-12 projects represent more than $226 million worth of construction. Atop that list are the mix of new buildings, upgrades and renovations at the two largest high school campuses in Fort Smith.
“I am proud to say that all capital projects are scheduled to complete this year, including the major renovations taking place at Northside and Southside High School,” said Terry Morawski, superintendent of the Fort Smith School District.
“With secure entrances, two new freshman centers for ninth-grade students, two new competition gyms, two tornado shelters at each high school, updated classrooms and common areas, we are positioned to offer our high school students the best environment for learning and developing their skills for their future career paths.”
The sweeping facility improvements in the Fort Smith School District are led by Southside at $36 million, overseen by Little Rock’s Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. The nearly $30 million Northside project and the $7.4 million renovation of the Darby Junior High School, both managed by Nabholz Construction Corp. of Conway, were also among the roster of checklist items in the Vision 2023 Strategic Plan.
The building program was given fiscal life on May 22, 2018, when voters agreed to shoulder a 5.558 mill increase in property taxes to raise more than $120 million to fund the K-12 work.
The will of voters to raise taxes for big-ticket school improvements is spreading to smaller communities, thanks in part to shifting demographics.
“People are moving out of the bigger cities into the smaller ones who are willing to spend money on their rural schools,” said Hunter Klippert, vice president of Crossett’s Ideal Construction Co.
A case in point is the $12.7 million junior high school and gymnasium in Genoa, 5 miles southeast of Texarkana.
Ideal Construction is overseeing site work that will culminate in a 65,830-SF building that will house 12 classrooms, a cafetorium, a 1,400-seat gym and more to start the 2022-23 school year.
“K-12 has been strong in the state, but we expect it to slow down during the next 18 months, with a caveat,” said Greg Williams, CEO of Nabholz Construction. “Some school districts are going out for millage increases, but that will be in the fall before that happens.”
Any projects that result from those future local elections may not get underway until mid-2022.
Among 14 of the largest ongoing K-12 construction projects in Arkansas, Nabholz tallied five, totaling more than $81 million. In addition to the two big projects for the Fort Smith School District, the company is working on the nearly $27 million Academics Plus Charter School in Maumelle, $10.5 million worth of improvements at White Hall and the $6.6 million cafetorium-safe rooms project in Greers Ferry.
“We appreciate the local commitment to improving Arkansas education facilities from a business standpoint as well as the benefit to the students,” Williams said.
Baldwin & Shell and Kinco each registered three jobs among 14 of the largest active K-12 projects.
Kinco’s big three added up to more than $31 million, encompassing work on the Foreman High School, nearly $11.7 million; England Elementary School, $11.4 million; and Harmony Grove High School addition, $8.2 million.
Baldwin & Shell’s trio totaled more than $81 million with the Northside project in Fort Smith and elementary ($18.8 million) and middle school ($26.8 million) construction in Jacksonville.
“Last year, about 50% of our volume was K-12,” said Scott Copas, CEO of Baldwin & Shell Construction.
Though the details aren’t sorted out yet, an Arkansas share of federal stimulus money is expected to flow in the coming months to fund infrastructure improvements for schools and more.
“The market for construction management is more competitive than it’s been in the past, but it is going to be a very good market for construction,” said Scott McDaniel, co-owner of Ramsons Inc. in Jonesboro. “A lot of schools are getting stimulus money, too.”
Fayetteville’s C.R. Crawford Construction LLC is overseeing the $9.4 million Prescott elementary school project, its only active K-12 project. The company’s president believes a healthy dose of federally backed stimulus construction will be ramping up.
“I think you’re going to see a ton of infrastructure projects,” said Cody Crawford.