Aided by the natural gas boom, Quitman's school board passed a proposal to build a slick new gymnasium without a millage increase. The new gym will nearly triple the seating capacity from the old gym, which was built 47 years ago and only holds around 500 spectators.
The $5.9 million facility, likely to be called the Bulldog Complex, will help Quitman alleviate problems with basketball seating, practice scheduling for all basketball teams, scheduling for physical education classes, plus it will help with non-sports related extra curricular activities such as drama and special events held by the elementary school on up to junior high and high school band concerts.
Quitman Facilities Coordinator Donald Rowlett said the old gym had several deficiencies. “Our seating is very limited, very uncomfortable and it is not air conditioned and it is not feasible to air condition. Our dressing room facilities are deplorable in the old gym because they are very, very small. Our kids have been subjected here for a number of years to deplorable locker rooms and dressing rooms. It's hard to explain to people how bad we need this facility. We need it as much for non-athletic things as we do athletic functions.
“We do not have a facility on campus that we can handle the kind of a crowd we have for music programs, band concerts … Our students take up most of the seating and the parents can't get in to see their kids perform. On the east end there will be an area devoted to drama, a stage area for graduations, music performances, band concerts. They will be all in this facility, which will be air-conditioned and have plenty of seats. With a school our size, it gets really hard in the winter-time to have any kind of P.E. program because you have a scheduling problem with high school P.E. classes, high school basketball. So the old gymnasium will be devoted to P.E. and especially elementary P.E.”
The southwestern Cleburne County school located close to the Faulkner County line is fortunate to have funds created by the natural gas boom, allowing them to build the state-of-the-art gym without a millage increase.
“Finally, due to the natural gas, the Fayetteville Shale play, our assessment has gotten up enough to where we can sell our bonds just on our assessment to raise the funds to do it. It's a little bit of a gamble,” said Rowlett. “Down the road if the natural gas industry goes bust in 5-10 years and the assessment bottoms out, they might have to come back and ask for a little millage increase.
“But, I think we can say we've tried to do it on our own, we've tried to do it without a millage increase … I don't think the natural gas industry is going to bottom out. The assessment is based out of the volume of gas that comes out of the wells. There's lots of sub-contractors leaving and lots of drilling rigs leaving, but as long as the gas wells are producing we will have income from those wells. Hopefully they won't shut the valves off too tight or the natural gas prices just drop down below three dollars a million cubic feet again and we can keep our assessment up.”
Page 2 of 3 - Rowlett said it's expected to take 12 months to build the gym. Ground will be broken around March of 2014. “We voted on the new gym in July. It takes the architect three months to come up with a plan and get it approved through the state agencies. That will be done August, September or October if everything goes well. You don't want to start a building project in the middle of winter. We are projecting to advertise on bids in January, open bids in mid-February and break ground in March. So it would be March of 2015 when it would be complete if we start it in March. It will be 12 months from the day we break ground.
Quitman is looking at new gyms located in Pangburn, Lonoke, Fordyce and Beebe to obtain ideas for its new structure. “We have looked at several gyms because we have been working on this for three years,” said Rowlett. “Our architect is Lewis Elliott and Studer out of Little Rock and they were the architects on the gyms that I called to visit [soon]. We are going to look at those and pick things we like about them and things we don't like.
“When we met last week we talked to the architect and coaches to go over the floor plans and decide where we wanted this dressing room and that dressing room, where we wanted to coaches' offices and where we wanted the classrooms, concession stands and all that. We kinda mapped out our floor plan last week.”
The next step involves looking at seating. Rowlett said he expects the school will settle on permanent chair-back seating on the home side with rollback seating on the visitor side in order to make room for two practice floors.
“The home side will probably be fixed seating and a big portion of that will be fold back seats. The visitor side will probably be roll away where during the day those will be rolled back so we can have two practice courts. You can get those roll away bleachers also with backs so right now we are planning on a portion of those roll back seats to have backs on them also. There will be six goals to practice with, two on each side and one on each end,” added Rowlett.
Fans will enter the new gym at the top level, similar to relatively new Greers Ferry Lake area structures at Heber Springs, West Side, Pangburn and Rose Bud.
The new gym, to be accompanied by a large parking lot, will be located on the east side of campus where the Bulldogs played baseball and softball up until a few years ago when they moved out to the city sports complex. “We have very little parking here at Quitman and we feel like when we build a new gym our crowds will be larger,” said Rowlett. “Even when we have elementary programs and band concerts people have problems finding parking areas around the school. We've added so many buildings it has taken up a lot of our parking space, so there will be a large parking area and an area for a safe room. The safe room is not in this project but we are going to do the dirt work for the safe room when we do the parking lot.”
Page 3 of 3 - Once March of 2015 rolls around, Quitman fans will be able to enjoy a spacious gym rather than scrambling for a spot to sit.
The Bulldog Complex will seat 1,250 fans, which is the capacity needed to host a 2A regional or state tournament.