Bentonville allocates money for stadium
West High project gets $2 million
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
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.