BY MELANIE BUCK –
The Acorn Campus of the Ouachita River School District is undergoing multiple capital improvement projects, all designed to provide a continued safe and caring environment for the students, according to Ouachita River School District Superintendent Jerry Strasner. New baseball and softball fields are in the works and the district is looking forward to building a community tornado shelter, updating lighting campus wide, and a new multi-million dollar cafeteria.
Strasner said the baseball and softball diamonds are around 60% complete and expects the project to be 100% complete by the end of March. The softball field is expected to be complete in February, weather permitting.
Construction on a community storm shelter that is being built on campus began in January thanks to a grant from FEMA. Strasner said that school architect Craig Boone and Ashley Garris at Western Arkansas Planning wrote and submitted the grant that gives the district $653,026.71 for the construction of the shelter that will double as a band and choir hall during the day. The school’s portion of the cost will be $349,956.25. The shelter will be available to the community in the afternoons and weekends. “If the tornado sirens go off, it will automatically open the doors on the safe room,” said Strasner, providing extra safety to the community during hours when the school is closed. The safe room will hold around 600 people, and will fit all students and employees of the Acorn campus.
“We’re continuing to try to provide a safe and caring environment to our kids so we’re really excited that we’ve been blessed with these funds to do something like this with,” Strasner said.
To make room for a new cafeteria, $50,000 has been budgeted to build a new playground. The current playground sits where the new cafeteria is expected to sit and moving the current playground is the only option. It also gives the district a chance to update some of the play equipment as well. The school is currently taking bids on the project.
A new cafeteria is something Strasner stressed that the growing campus is in need of. Because the application process could take up to three years, paperwork is already being filed to seek approval of the project from the Department of Education. Partnership funding for the project is being sought out through the Dept. of Ed., causing the process to take longer. If approved, the estimated $2 million cafeteria would cost the district 40%, or around $800,000 – 900,000. Strasner said no loans would be used for the project, that the school has a plan to save the money and begin building when approval is given.
Acorn and Oden campuses will have all of their lighting updated this year at a cost of $227,000. Strasner said not only was the lighting needed, it will save over $1 million in energy over the next two years. Some features of the new lighting system are sensors that will turn lights off when no one is in the room.
The Pulse will continue to report on the progress of these projects as they near completion.