Bentonville School Board approves West stadium plan

Posted: October 23, 2017 at 10:30 p.m.

BENTONVILLE -- West High School will have a stadium to call its own starting next fall after the School Board approved a method of financing the $3.7 million project.

The board, following a nearly hour-long discussion, voted 5-2 Monday in favor of the proposal, which Superintendent Debbie Jones said administrators recommended "without pause."

How they voted

Here’s how Bentonville School Board members voted on the Bentonville West High School stadium funding proposal Monday:

• Matt Burgess: No

• Willie Cowgur: Yes

• Brent Leas: Yes

• Rebecca Powers: Yes

• Joe Quinn: No

• Travis Riggs: Yes

• Eric White: Yes

Source: Staff report

"It is the right thing to do whether you are a Wolverine or a Tiger because I know there is support on both ends for this plan," Jones said.

Board members Matt Burgess and Joe Quinn voted against the recommendation.

The board voted in July -- also by a 5-2 margin -- to earmark $1.98 million toward finishing West High School's stadium, with the understanding Athletic Director Scott Passmore would use that to entice significant donations from businesses and others in the community for the remaining money that was needed.

Passmore presented a new plan this month to use sponsorship contributions to the athletic department totaling $120,000 per year for 15 years to achieve the additional $1.8 million needed to complete the district's vision of the stadium. That would allow the school's varsity football team to play home games on its own field in Centerton instead of traveling to Bentonville High School's Tiger Stadium.

Passmore said he's reached out to companies that help organizations raise money. The process they outlined was that they would recruit sponsors to pay certain amounts over a period of time for the stadium.

Administrators figured they could do the same thing with the money they already had coming into the athletic department and they wouldn't have to pay a company the percentage fee they would charge for their services, Passmore said.

Nevertheless, the seed money the board earmarked in July has been helpful, he said.

"I have a meeting at least once a week with different people interested in giving," Passmore said. "At least now we can go and say, 'We have a plan to make this happen. We're not at zero.'"

Burgess told Passmore he does a great job as athletic director, but raising money shouldn't be one of his duties.

"You have a full-time job doing your normal functions," Burgess said. "I'd be much more supportive of this if we were doing it the traditional way, which is through the facilities point of view."

The board's discussion Monday followed appearances from several community members who used time allotted for public comment to address the stadium issue. Four people, including Centerton Mayor Bill Edwards, spoke in favor of the administration's plan. Five others expressed concerns.

Mandi Byrd noted several facility issues at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, where she's involved in the parent teacher organization. She said there's no air conditioning in the halls, the library and cafeteria are small, and there are no fire sprinklers in the building.

"This is where excellence lives," Byrd said, referring to the School District's slogan. "To me, that's not excellent."

Janet Schwanhausser, district finance director, said the district's long-term facilities plan includes money for improvements at Bentonville's older buildings, such as Thomas Jefferson.

Paul Wallace, facilities director, said the district has a record of responding to maintenance issues at older buildings. He mentioned a new heating and air conditioning system installed at Lincoln Junior High School a few years ago as an example of a major investment.

While sprinklers aren't required in every school, every school does have fire alarms, Wallace said.

Jones said the district is on track with its facility plan and the district has spent money raised from millage increases as promised. The district has gone to great lengths to raise money for the stadium project, she said.

"I'm sad for the fact that because it is athletics, it has faced such contention. It's the right thing to do for the band, for track and field, and everybody else who's going to participate on that field," she said.

Bryan Pratt, coach of West High School's football team, expressed gratitude for the board's commitment to finishing the stadium. It's something that will change kids' lives for years to come, he said.

"I'm so thankful we've got board members who feel that's a very important part of the school spirit and something that needs to be finished," Pratt said.

West High's football field includes bleachers and a press box on the visitors side. The stadium, as it is, isn't qualified to host varsity football games, though it's suitable for practices and games below the varsity level. Bleachers, restrooms, a press box and a ticket booth will be among the features added to complete the stadium.

West High School was built after the district earned voters' approval of a 2.9-mill tax increase in 2013. The board at the time didn't ask for money to build athletic facilities at the school.

NW News on 10/24/2017