The WER team toured Jacksonville leadership through the new Bobbby G. Lester Elementary School. Below is an article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette about the building specifics.
The skylights are blocked, the red glass-flecked floor is dulled by dust, and hard-hat-wearing workers are everywhere, but the first new school in the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District is nearing completion for opening in August.
On Tuesday, members of the district’s School Board as well as Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher and other community leaders walked through what is becoming a 78,000-square-foot campus of some 32-plus classrooms, a gymnasium, a cafeteria and a media center that will serve up to 650 pupils in kindergarten through fifth grades.
The Bobby G. Lester Elementary School will be the first school to open in the 4,000-student district that is completing only its second year of independent operations.
“I think our kids are going to be excited to come to school here, and our parents are going to be proud to drop them off here,” School Board President Daniel Gray said at the end of the walkthrough led by architect Eldon Bock of WER Architects/Planners of Little Rock.
“And I think the whole community ought to be proud of what we are doing here,” Gray added. “The cool thing is, it’s just the beginning. We have a lot more to come. This is pretty, but the new high school is going to blow everybody away.”
Jacksonville-area leaders worked for decades to achieve the July l, 2016, detachment of the Jacksonville system from the much larger Pulaski County Special School District. That separation was desired in large part to be able to upgrade the aging, outdated schools in the Jacksonville area.
Lester will open in the 2018-19 school year, to be followed by the replacement for Jacksonville High that is already under construction for opening in 2019. Still other elementaries and a middle school are on the drawing board.
Lester Elementary, named for a longtime educator and Jacksonville resident, is on Harris Road near the intersection with General Samuels Road. It will replace Arnold Dtive Elementary on the Little Rock Air Force Base and Tolleson Elementary, which is next door to the new school.
The site plan of the school resembles a two-fingered peace sign, with administrative offices, the gym, the cafeteria and a glassed-in library/media center making up the “fist” of the peace sign and the two classroom wings making up the “fingers.”
The challenge of the site was its sloping topography, Bock said, as evidenced by the 6-foot slope between the two classroom wings.
That open space between the two wings will feature one of the school’s most distinguishing features: an outdoor classroom just off of the media center with risers to sit on.
There will be some artificial turf covering part of the open space, a shade-covered playground area for students with disabilities, and spaces for terraced gardens.
“If I was a kid, I would roll down that slope,” Bock admitted.
The school’s main entrance will be on the north side, closest to the administrative offices. Students on buses will be dropped off and picked up there. There is a secondary entrance on the south side where parents can drop off and pick up the school’s car-riders.
Each of the classrooms is equipped with two or three vertically elongated windows to let in natural light, as well as LED lighting. There is a “docking” station in each room for easy charging of computer devices on technology carts.
The rooms are painted in neutral colors with one accent wall painted either bright yellow, burnt orange, azure blue or lime green. The hallways are also neutral in color but trimmed intermittently with red.
Luxury vinyl, low-maintenance flooring is being installed in every classroom along with LED lighting. Every room will include a security camera.
An open-space walkway links the north and south entrances and separates the cafeteria and gym from the library, music rooms and administrative offices.
The space will be illuminated in part by the skylights. Wide, large stairs line one end of the walkway, creating space for gathering and presentations to large groups.
The school’s outside walls are now beige brick but will eventually be trimmed with red metal panels, Bock said.
The school will cost about $15.3 million to complete, Bock said.
Jacksonville/North Pulaski Superintendent Bryan Duffy said the work on the school is ahead of schedule and is expected to be completed in July.
In addition to the new Lester Elementary and Jacksonville High are plans for a new elementary to replace Warren Dupree and Pinewood elementaries, and ultimately a replacement elementary school for Murrell Taylor and Bayou Meto elementaries.
The School Board also has voted to replace the Dupree and Pinewood schools and construct a new middle school on the site of the existing Jacksonville High in the early 2020s.
The long-term building plans are in response to U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr.’s January 2016 order that not only approved the immediate plans for a new high school, a renovated middle school, a new elementary school and multipurpose room additions at other elementary schools, but also said the four remaining elementary schools had to be replaced “so that all the district’s elementary schools are equal.”
Marshall is the presiding judge in a long-running school desegregation lawsuit involving Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District.
By Cynthia Howell
May 9th, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
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