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story.lead_photo.caption Workers lay the framework for the new middle school for the Texarkana Arkansas School District. The back of the school is located across from Holiday Springs Water Park, but the front entrance faces Jefferson Avenue. (Staff photo by Sara Vaughn)

Arkansas Middle School, the first new school Texarkana Arkansas School District has constructed in 37 years, is slated to open in January.

It will have grade-specific wings for sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Each wing will contain 12 classrooms. A fine arts wing is also included, said Peyton Shelton, the project manager of Little Rock-based Clark Construction.

These wings are located on either side of a large hallway that connects the school's main entrance on Jefferson Avenue to the large cafeteria and two gyms located in at the back of the structure.

A large Razorback logo will emblazon the central hallway's floor.

The school contains design features specifically requested by teachers.

"We let everyone have input on what they needed and wanted. They took real ownership in it," said Superintendent Becky Kesler.

As a result of the feedback received, one of the key features the fine arts wing contains is what district officials call a "band suite."

The end of a wing gets constructed for the new middle school. Grade levels will be separated into wings and connect to a central area in the middle. (Staff photo by Sara Vaughn)

The suite will contain one large band hall and a smaller band hall. Several practice rooms are located on the perimeter. A percussion room is also located in the suite.

An exit on the band suite's north end will allow band teachers and students to easily access the campus' practice fields, Kesler said.

Theatre arts will also be located in the fine arts wing.

Kesler said each grade wing will also contain state-of-the-art science labs and all classrooms will feature built-in storage with counter and cabinet space.

Students will come from their respective, grade-specific wings to the school's large, central corridor to go to lunch or to access the two gyms.

The cafeteria includes an amphitheater stage.

Kesler said the two gyms, located next to the cafeteria, will be used for athletics and physical education, respectively.

A weight room will also be located on the property.

Project Manager Peyton Shelton discusses building plans with Genia Bullock in the cafeteria area. The cafeteria has a raised area that can become a stage. (Staff photo by Sara Vaughn)

Kesler said building a middle school ensures the district's youngest students will get to attend school in the new building.

The sixth-grade academy located within the school will help acclimate those students to junior high.

The school has several safety features including driving lanes for parents to pick up their children that are separate and apart from the lanes for school buses to load and unload children.

When parents and visitors enter the school, there will be a secured area to check in. The offices for the principal, nurse and counselors will be located in this area.

The school's assistant principals will have an office suite at the front of each grade wing to ensure they are accessible to students and teachers, Kesler said.

District officials have carefully planned for the move in January, opting to move the seventh and eighth grade students first to Arkansas Middle School.

Sixth graders will be the last to move to the new building early next year because they will still have two full years to attend the new school.

The $26 million project does not increases taxes. Instead, bonds were restructured and $6 million is partnership money will be used for the new building. The district plans to furnish the new school with magnet school funds.

College Hill Elementary, which is 63 years old, will be phased out of use as a school when Arkansas Middle School opens, Kesler said.

Second through fifth grade students will go to what is now College Hill Middle School.

In the 21-22 school year, the current College Hill Middle School will house kindergarten through fifth grades.

The last TASD school to be built was Trice Elementary in 1983, according to district records.

Construction of Arkansas Middle School started last July with the clearing of 31-acres, Shelton said.

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