Ben­tonville al­lo­cates money for sta­dium

West High project gets $2 mil­lion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - DAVE PEROZEK

BEN­TONVILLE — The School Board agreed Mon­day to al­lo­cate nearly $2 mil­lion to­ward a sta­dium at West High School.

Scott Pass­more, the School District’s ath­letic di­rec­tor, said he was ex­cited to re­ceive the board’s fi­nan­cial sup­port, call­ing it a “huge step” to­ward com­ple­tion of a fundrais­ing ef­fort for the sta­dium. Be­ing able to present po­ten­tial donors with ev­i­dence of the district’s in­vest­ment will in­spire oth­ers in the com­mu­nity to give, he said.

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us,” Pass­more said, af­ter Mon­day’s board meet­ing.

Pass­more es­ti­mated he still needs to raise an ad­di­tional $2 mil­lion for a fa­cil­ity that would al­low the school to host foot­ball games.

The board’s de­ci­sion to help fund the project was not listed on the agenda for the board’s meet­ing Mon­day. Wil­lie Cowgur, board vice pres­i­dent, made a mo­tion at the start of the meet­ing to add the item to the agenda. That mo­tion passed on a 5-2 vote, with Matt Burgess and Joe Quinn vot­ing against it.

Burgess and Quinn also voted against Cowgur’s mo­tion — sec­onded by Re­becca Pow­ers — to put $1,976,000 to­ward the sta­dium, which is par­tially built with bleachers and a press box for vis­it­ing teams.

Cowgur, Pow­ers, Travis Riggs, Eric White and Brent Leas voted for it.

Cowgur cited two sources for the sta­dium money. One is the $1.6 mil­lion the district is re­ceiv­ing from the sale of 40 acres on Bright Road to Buff­in­g­ton Homes of Arkansas, a sale the board ap­proved Mon­day.

The other $376,000 comes from money left over from a bud­get pre­vi­ously set for cap­i­tal projects across the district. Janet Sch­wan­hausser, fi­nance di­rec­tor, said the bud­get for those projects ini­tially was set at $13 mil­lion, but af­ter ze­ro­ing in more

closely on the costs, the district ex­pects to need only $12.7 mil­lion.

Quinn ob­jected the most on the mat­ter, say­ing he dis­agreed with the way the board was go­ing about it.

“I know how we do things, and this is a lot of money to do on an agenda change, which we nor­mally don’t do it that way,” Quinn said. “The way this is un­fold­ing, that doesn’t even give peo­ple the abil­ity to come to the start of the meet­ing and do their three-minute com­ments. It just seems aw­fully rushed to do $2 mil­lion on an agenda change.”

West High School opened last year. Its foot­ball team plays home games at Ben­tonville High School’s Tiger Sta­dium, seven miles from West High’s Cen­ter­ton cam­pus.

The district re­ceived vot­ers’ ap­proval of a 1.9-mill tax in­crease to build four new schools in a spe­cial elec­tion May 9. Prior to that elec­tion, some in the com­mu­nity — in­clud­ing for­mer board mem­bers Lisa Clark and Grant Ligh­tle — ex­pressed con­cern the board would turn around soon af­ter the elec­tion and put money into a sta­dium at West High School.

Deb­bie Jones, su­per­in­ten­dent, and Riggs, the board’s pres­i­dent, said at the time no money raised from the mill­age would be put to­ward the sta­dium project. Jones re­it­er­ated af­ter the meet­ing that no money from the mill­age would go to­ward the sta­dium.

Sch­wan­hausser said she felt com­fort­able with the sta­dium ex­pen­di­ture, be­cause the district re­ceived $3.9 mil­lion in “growth funds,” which the state pro­vides to school districts based on how much en­roll­ment grows over the course of a year. That ad­di­tional rev­enue is money the district did not in­clude in its bud­get at the be­gin­ning of last school year, she said.

Eric White, a board mem­ber, said the board passed the mill­age with a trans­par­ent mes­sage of how the money would be spent.

“I think there’s al­ways go­ing to be new in­for­ma­tion go­ing for­ward. I think it’s the re­spon­si­bil­ity of this board to make a de­ci­sion based on what we know now,” White said.

Putting money into the sta­dium project “would not go back in time and con­flict with what we told every­one we planned on do­ing, and what we knew at that time,” he said.

Quinn coun­tered that com­ment, say­ing, “We all know that if the mill­age had failed, we would not be hav­ing this dis­cus­sion tonight. So we can say it’s not re­lated, but com­mon sense would tell you that it is.”

Pass­more said with the district’s fi­nan­cial sup­port, he can talk with po­ten­tial donors about do­na­tions that are more within their price range, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to nam­ing rights. In­stead of seek­ing $3 mil­lion for the right to name the sta­dium, the price tag could be $1 mil­lion, he told the board.

“I do think when we sit down with in­di­vid­u­als and have those [district] funds avail­able and say, ‘Here’s where we’re at, we’re half­way there,’ it will ob­vi­ously in­spire peo­ple to be able to get in­volved,” Pass­more said.

He added very few school districts build sta­di­ums en­tirely with do­na­tions.

“The way this is un­fold­ing, that doesn’t even give peo­ple the abil­ity to come to the start of the meet­ing and do their three-minute com­ments. It just seems aw­fully rushed to do $2 mil­lion on an agenda change.”

— Joe Quinn, School Board mem­ber

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER

The Ben­tonville School Board on Mon­day ap­proved sell­ing 40 acres the School District owns at the cor­ner of South­west Went­worth Av­enue and South­west Bright Road to Buff­in­g­ton Homes of Arkansas, which plans to build a res­i­den­tial sub­di­vi­sion on the land.

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