Sprawling and brawling 

In Fayetteville, ‘Disagreement gets more heated.’

INSPECTION: UA Athletic Director Jeff Long, Vice Chancellor Don Pederson and Trustee John Tyson tour FHS property.
  • INSPECTION: UA Athletic Director Jeff Long, Vice Chancellor Don Pederson and Trustee John Tyson tour FHS property.

A proposal to sell the high school would be controversial in just about any town. In Fayetteville, with a highly educated and highly opinionated population, it's even more so.

“Disagreement gets more heated here,” Fayetteville School Superintendent Bobby C. New says, and he should know. “This is not a community where people say ‘What was good enough for me is good enough for my kids.' ” Even when most residents agree that improvements in the high school are needed — as they do now, New said — the details become painful and contentious. Bloggers stay busy. Competing committees are formed.

Being home to the main campus of the University of Arkansas means that Fayetteville schools benefit from assets like the children of university faculty members, and from institutions like the Walton Arts Center, New said. But it also means generous criticism for people like New. “The culture is university-dominated,” he says. “But that's part of the beauty of living here.”

New has enjoyed that beauty abundantly. He's still criticized for his part in a book-censorship dispute a couple of years ago, and many who thought he was insufficiently anti-censorship then believe he's insufficiently anti-sprawl now, supportive of a new high school in a new location even though his employer, the School Board, hasn't yet made a decision.

The decision will not be made easily, and not just because there are so many argumentative Fayettevillians. Hard questions are involved — questions about what some call “sprawl” and others call “growth,” about the proper relationship between the public schools and the university, about the proper relationship of the taxpayer to both. The issues divide people who otherwise have much in common.

Alderman Nancy Allen is a public-school supporter and former teacher, a graduate of both Fayetteville High School and the University of Arkansas. She sent a letter to the members of the school board listing reasons to keep the existing high school:

“Retaining the current high school near the center of town will reduce sprawl, the top goal of the city's 2025 plan. … We have 50 years of students who have graduated from the current FHS. It is a destination for them when they visit and a destination for locals. Monuments, awards and memories are there. Donors are connected to that building. … Gifted students can walk a block to access the UofA. Even with extensive remodeling, it would cost less money [than building a new school]. … Routes for parents and accessibility to their child's school would be less difficult.”

Allen, who has fought developers before, was also the lead sponsor of a City Council resolution that says the city's long-range development plan “urges increased density in the central area of Fayetteville [where the existing school is located] and discourages sprawl and moving large traffic-generating facilities toward the outskirts of Fayetteville [where a new school would be located],” that the city lacks funds “to build or enlarge city streets to properly and safely access a distant site of the proposed new or replacement Fayetteville Senior High,” and that, in conclusion, “maintaining FHS's current central location would be advantageous to the City of Fayetteville … ” The resolution was adopted 7-1.

Judy McDonald and Laura Underwood are public-school supporters and former members of the Fayetteville School Board. Underwood also taught at FHS for eight years. (Coincidentally, McDonald's husband is Allen's ophthalmologist.) They and six other former school board members sent a letter to the current members and superintendent New:



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