BY MELANIE BUCK –
Mena School Board was updated on a proposed $8 million renovation/expansion of the Louise Durham Elementary building during a facilities meeting held last Tuesday, October 18. The project will include a systems upgrade and the addition of approximately 16,000 square feet to the existing building.
The systems upgrade portion is a $2.4 million project. Mena Public Schools will be responsible for only half of that cost, $1.2 million, because the district seized the opportunity to secure a matching grant from the Arkansas Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation, which will pay the remaining $1.2 million. Mena’s portion will come from their building fund.
Although plans are still in the works, grant funding was approved in April 2014 for ‘systems replacements,’ which includes upgrades to current facilities. Mena Superintendent Benny Weston said the project is considered “in motion,” and “all parties are on board and we’re ready to continue to move forward.” Weston explained that the school board will sit down after January and talk about project details, including targeting dates for the start and finish of construction. The renovation and expansion of the facility will cost approximately $5.6 million and will be paid for through the district’s building fund and bond extension.
Some spending of the grant is already underway. Once approved for the grant, spending had to begin by October 2015. Mena Schools began with replacing HVAC units at Louise Durham.
The current renderings of the proposed project show a new exterior design that will match closely with Mena High School, keeping the same color schemes and large façade. According to Weston, approximately 16,000 square feet will be added to Louise Durham, which was originally built in 1954. “This is not only an expansion but is also a renovation of existing systems and other components of the facility,” said Weston.
The interior of Louise Durham will also change with the proposed addition of approximately 14 classrooms, a new office area, and a large bathroom being built near the existing front entrance. The addition will see an end to modular units now in use and all students will be housed in the main building that will accommodate up to 600 students. Student drop-off and pick-up areas will change slightly when the project is completed.
Although there are no official tornado shelters on campus at Louise Durham, Weston explained that for younger students, hardened halls are implemented for safety. The new addition will feature those types of walls and will serve as the gathering place in the case of threatening weather. “It’s hard for the young kids to have to rush into a facility during inclement weather. What is recommended, is to have hardened halls and a lot of schools have those now.”
Superintendent Weston said the board is excited to bring the plans to fruition. “The Mena School District feels that the renovation of Louise Durham will provide students, staff, and the community a building that everyone can be proud of without asking for an increase to the millage rate.”