Farmington High Project Moves Forward
FARMINGTON — Farmington Planning Commission agreed at its February meeting to approve a building permit for the new Farmington High School so the project can move forward.
The Commission’s agenda included a request from the school district for a variance from the city’s Landscape Ordinance. The
commission is in the process of amending the Landscape Ordinance and Melissa McCarville, city business manager, recommended the school wait and request its variance after the changes have been approved.
Mark Haguewood with Hight Jackson Associates asked if the city could go ahead and at least issue the building permit. He said an urgency existed to get started.
“We have a short time to do the entire project,” Haguewood told commissioners.
The school will open bids on the project March 17 and school officials hope to move into the new building for the 2017-18 school year.
Geoffrey Bates of Bates & Associates, the engineering firm for the new high school, said the district wants a variance for landscape requirements for the perimeter of the property.
“The landscape ordinance works really well on small commercial sites,” Bates said. “This is a 40 acre site so if you are putting trees around all the perimeter, it (the costs) would be astronomical.”
The Commission did not discuss the school’s proposed landscape plan but a local resident who lives across the street from the site addressed the commission about the importance of the landscaping ordinance and landscaping at the new school facility.
Alex Lacy said he and his wife have lived across the street for 35 years and know the “neighborhood pretty well.”
Farmington is on the cusp of major development, Lacy said.
“If you drive around Arkansas and the little towns, most of them have seen their better days. You really can’t see a lot of future in many of our towns. That’s not the case with Farmington,” he said, adding he believes Farmington’s best days are ahead.
“I think the ordinance you are dealing with tonight is one of the most important that our city has ever passed,” he said.
Lacy pointed to the new daycare center on Southwinds as an example of the impact the ordinance has already had.
“Think about how that might look if you hadn’t had this ordinance,” Lacy said. “Just look across the street at the development that was done there before the ordinance. Compare those two corners. It’s a huge, huge difference there.”
The same should be said about the new high school, Lacy said.
“This new site for the high school is going to have more to do with people’s image of our town than any other site in Farmington. It’s going to be the most visited site from people all over Northwest Arkansas, and since we are now division 5 in athletics, from all over the state of Arkansas. For athletic events and fine arts events, what people think of Farmington is going to depend a lot on what they think about this particular location.”
Phase 1 of the high school, Cardinal Arena and the Performing Arts Center, was built prior to the city’s Landscape Ordinance and Lacy described the large facility as “pretty much bricks, mortar” and “almost scorched earth development.”
The school removed hundreds of trees and put in “very, very few,” he said.
He pointed out landscaping takes time for maturity and reminded the Commission that other 40-acre sites will be developed in the city in the future.
“It seems to me that you’ll have a very tough time if you give a variance to a public entity and have a very hard time not giving variances to private developments,” he added.
Lacy said he had one final comment to make before closing.
“I’ve been a teacher all my life, taught at five different universities and at one of the most beautiful campuses on earth, the University of Virginia.”
Lacy said the new Farmington High campus will be used for the next 50-75 years. The appearance of a campus is comfort to the students and even inspirational, he said.
“I would think this needs another look. I don’t know what your alternatives are but if you have an alternative to have more discussion, I would hope you would take that alternative.”
Bates responded that as the campus is built out, more landscaping would be installed. Future plans include a new football stadium, fieldhouse, practice football field and an agriculture building.
“This is a public high school,” Bates said. “They are trying to do the best they can and spend the money where it is needed to be, where in my opinion and their opinion is on the building and classrooms. What they have left would go into landscaping.”
Commissioner Judy Horne, who describes herself as “one of the biggest tree huggers in Farmington,” said she believes the Commission can work with the school district to come up with a plan that is reasonable and attractive.
EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS REPORT COMES FROM A RECORDING OF THE MEETING.