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Construction costs create problems for Watson Chapel School District

Inflation and the rising cost of materials have caused the construction of a new high school building for Watson Chapel School District to be put on hold.

PINE BLUFF, Ark. — Construction that was planned for the Watson Chapel School District has run into some issues, and Tom Wilson, Superintendent of the district said a rise in costs is to blame.

Last August, voters in Watson Chapel approved $5.7 million to help fund a new high school building.

Initially, Wilson said construction would cost at least $24 million, but the district has decided to push the brakes on the project, at least for the time being.

"Construction costs really spiked the last couple of months," Wilson said.

After a recent meeting with a construction company, Wilson learned the price tag for the new building has gone up to at least $32 million.

"We're trying to tweak it as much as possible, so we can save money," Wilson explained.

To do so, he's been working with an architect to redesign the original layout.

Some of the changes that have been made include scrapping a new gym.

"We talked about bringing the building a little closer and doing away with some of the open areas," Wilson explained.

He added that making those cuts, is still not enough.

Wilson has requested additional funding from state lawmakers during this year's legislative session. 

"Hopefully, there will be presented and they'll look at it. I hope the state department will also join us," He said.

A decline in student enrollment has also continued to impact the school.

Since 2017, the district has lost an average of 138 students every year, Wilson said.

His hope is that the new building would attract more students thus increasing funding.

"We get funded almost $8,000 per student. When you lose a lot of students, you're going to lose a lot of foundation funding," Wilson said.

He referred to this latest situation as a letdown, but he's looking to get more funding before the school year ends. Otherwise, construction could be delayed for at least a year or longer.

"Everybody was looking forward to this and we had high hopes, you know, I think our school district is dependent on this," Wilson explained.

Wilson also said after the millage passed, he later learned the new building is required to have a storm shelter, which would add at least $2 million to the hefty price tag.

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