TABLE FOR ONE : The new schoolhouse

Fayetteville's future deserves a new place to learn

Posted: July 29, 2009 at 7:04 a.m.

— From what I am hearing around town the older generation is reluctant to provide the needed funds to build anew schoolhouse for future generations. Isn't that a little odd? You would think the single most important responsibility of any community is to provide education for its youthno matter how much it costs. Our sister cities to the north have found a way to build new state-of-the art schools, gymnasiums, auditoriums and stadiums.

The 4.9 millage that will be placed on the September ballot, if passed, would provide $113 million for a desperately needed new high school. But word on the street is not positive for its passage. Why? Isn't it obvious that Fayetteville needs a new high school? Some say the 4.9 millage is too much and will not get the needed votes. Others argue that there has been too much controversy about where the school should be built, or that two schools should be built, and therefore, the logic follows, "I am not voting for it." That seems like faulty logic to me.

Sure, $113 million is a big number. But we're talking about a facility that would serve the community for 50 years. Let's face it. We live in a wealthy community. We'll spend $100 million on Razorback football in 2009 alone. Think about it. Approximately 50,000 fans will drive to Fayetteville five weekends this year. Gas alone will cost a fortune. Motel costs, food, souvenirs and other stuff will be circulated throughout the community. OK, maybe it doesn't add up to $100 million - but throw in the basketball crowds, the baseball crowds, the track and field crowds, and there you have it. One hundred million dollars a year in this town for sports entertainment and we don't blink an eye.

How about the Northwest Arkansas Mall? Do you realize what a mall is? It's a place where a bunch of stores gather under one roof so people can walk around and buy stuff. Shoes, clothing, gifts, gadgets, food - just stuff that you could mostly do without. But it's what we Americans have learned to do for weekend entertainment. Shoppers get a buzz spending just beyond their means. It's like gambling. Gambling is no fun unless you gamble just beyond what you can really afford. Dedicated shoppers go on a spree, smoke out those credit cards, then collapse into a restaurant for lunch to ponder their take. The mall will generate millions this year, mostly on things people can do without. Don't you think there is enough money in this community to build the next generation a new schoolhouse?

In conversations last week I learned that the present building was built in 1952. The rooms are too small. The science rooms are especially small for students and modern equipment. Fayetteville High School is blessed with a nationally respected band program. The marching band recentlymarched in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City - not to mention the Rose Bowl Parade a couple years back. The original band room was designed for 80 musicians. Today the concert band numbers 250. There is not a space at the high school large enough to contain the entire band fora practice session.

During the past three seasons Bulldog athletics have produced state champions in football, basketball, and baseball. This past year both boys' and girls' basketball teams went undefeated and won state championships. People across the state assume Fayetteville athletic facilities are among the best. The football and baseball fields are good enough, but the gym is out of date and way too small.

Smaller communities like Greenwood, Alma and Siloam Springs (not to mention our rival cities to the north: Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville) have recently built new schools, modern athletic facilities and impressive performing arts centers. It also seems the smaller communities are more narrowly focused on community needs. There is less controversy in the smaller towns, and things can get done. When the school board asks for more support they usually get what they ask for. They take pride in their football stadiums, indoor football facilities, performing arts centers and gymnasiums. The Greenwood gym, known as H.B. Stewart Arena, seats 3,500 and has often been called "Little Bud Walton." The Alma football stadium is huge, and comes equipped with a four-story press box that has an elevator inside. It's even hosted college football games.

We all know there is a recession on. Some say we just can't afford a new high school during this economic downturn. That is a reasonable argument, I suppose. For some. To me, it's absurd. We can always find the money to do what is really necessary to keep the city of Fayetteville, and Fayetteville schools, among the very best in the state. Maybe it will mean a few more dollars on your property tax bill each year. Perhaps $100? Or, if you are really fortunate and have vast property, the millage could cost you a few hundred dollars a year. I suggest you think about those generations who came before you. Who built your school? Who sacrificed for you a half-century ago to see that you had the best possible opportunity for education?

So, if you still don't want to vote for the millage for a new high school and a new generation, then why don't you just go out to the mall and buy yourself another pair of shoes or some fancy sunglasses.

Grady Jim Robinson lives in Fayetteville. His column appears on Wednesdays.

Opinion, Pages 4 on 07/29/2009