Pea Ridge takes close look at school growth is­sues

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - AN­NETTE BEARD An­nette Beard can be reached by email at

PEA RIDGE — Faced with over­whelm­ing growth caus­ing schools to be burst­ing at the seams and no money to build more fa­cil­i­ties, Pea Ridge school of­fi­cials are re­assess­ing op­tions af­ter vot­ers re­jected a mill­age in­crease.

The re­jected pro­posal was to pay for a new high school on school land north of town.

“The first ma­jor piece to con­sider is the traf­fic is­sue,” su­per­in­ten­dent Rick Neal said dur­ing a re­cent study ses­sion with school of­fi­cials and the mayor.

Some of the op­po­si­tion voiced on so­cial me­dia dur­ing the mill­age cam­paign, Neal said, in­cluded com­plaints about traf­fic con­ges­tion in front of the high school, which is at the in­ter­sec­tion of Hay­den Road and West Pick­ens Road. With the new high school pro­posed for a 77- acre tract north of the city park on Hay­den Road, some res­i­dents ex­pressed con­cern about com­pound­ing the con­ges­tion at that in­ter­sec­tion.

The land was pur­chased by the school as the most eco­nom­i­cal op­tion be­cause it had util­i­ties avail­able. The prop­erty was pur­chased in 2014.

“We have talked with [ the Arkansas High­way and Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment],” Mayor Jackie Crab­tree said. “We have au­tho­riza­tion to put a turn lane in on 265 and Pick­ens.

“It will cost about $50,000,” Crab­tree said adding util­i­ties will have to be moved.

An­other op­tion con­sid­ered for the con­ges­tion, Crab­tree said, is to reroute the north end of We­ston Road to the west on land used for the high school park­ing lot and make a four-way in­ter­sec­tion with Hay­den and Pick­ens. Crab­tree said the op­tion would cost about $200,000.

“At whose ex­pense?” asked Jenny Wood of the School Board.

“We hope it would be a shared ex­pense,” Crab­tree said.

“Why shared?” Wood asked.

“The city doesn’t have that much money to put in,” Crab­tree said, adding the in­ter­sec­tion would prob­a­bly be a four-way stop sign in­ter­sec­tion be­cause a traf­fic light is too costly.

“It would cost in the mil­lions,” the mayor said, ex­plain­ing when he looked at the pos­si­bil­ity of a stop light down­town in 2004, it was pro­jected to cost $ 1.5 mil­lion. He said the city could “do a bond is­sue or some­thing” to pay for mov­ing the street but it would re­quire ap­proval from the City Coun­cil and would be a year to a year-and-a-half down the road.

“We don’t want to make it … if you’re not putting the school out there,” Crab­tree said.

“But, even if the school doesn’t go out there, some­body else will build there,” Wood said, em­pha­siz­ing traf­fic con­ges­tion would be a prob­lem at the in­ter­sec­tion even with­out a new high school north of town.

Traff ic counts show 5,000 to 6,000 cars travel through the in­ter­sec­tion a day, said Rob Miller of RLP De­vel­op­ment.

“It’s a coun­cil is­sue, not a school is­sue,” School Board mem­ber Jeff Neil said. “That’s where it got hairy, peo­ple were ag­gra­vated with the school and per­ceived it as the school’s prob­lem.”

“We are re­ally at a stand­still on the school side,” Wood said.

“AHTD is very picky,” Crab­tree said. “They’ve done traf­fic stud­ies and their only rec­om­men­da­tions are turn lanes.

“We can only do what the High­way De­part­ment al­lows us to do,” said Crab­tree.

“The re­straints are not the High­way De­part­ment,” Neil said. “The re­straint is the coun­cil. We can’t get the coun­cil to move for­ward quickly enough to get a school build­ing out there.”

“This is not a new prob­lem. This prob­lem has been here for years. As a board, we have a 10-year plan,” Wood said. “We don’t know about growth all the time, but we plan for the growth. It’s (the traf­fic) been a prob­lem for at least 15 years. I’ve heard about that in­ter­sec­tion the whole time. It does sound like a coun­cil prob­lem be­cause they don’t see that as a pri­or­ity.”

“I think there is a real pos­si­bil­ity we could move for­ward,” Neil said, “but we’ll be look­ing at that in­ter­sec­tion the same as it is to­day. Our coun­cil does not seem to move at the same pace. I’m not lay­ing this on the mayor. But there is no real in­cen­tive to move at the same pace that the school does.

“I think it’s a real pos­si­bil­ity, we’re look­ing at a traf­fic con­straint and a prob­lem for years to come,” Neil said.

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