The Pulaski Tech Board of Trustees has voted to build a new facility for its growing culinary and hotel management curriculum on its South Campus on Interstate 30 near the Saline County line.
The decision was a disappointment to a downtown coalition led by Mayor Mark Stodola that urged Tech to build the school on what is now a parking lot at Sixth and Main Streets.
A revitalized downtown is important. An architecturally striking culinary school with a restaurant and hundreds of students coming and going would have been welcome on Main Street.
But the Tech board couldn't overlook money. The school has grown from next-to-nothing to almost 12,000 students with a dogged attention to both costs and student fees. Students — many working, many single parents, all making sacrifices — appreciate it and enroll by the droves.
The Tech Board wasn't sufficiently assured that the costs for a comparable building downtown wouldn't greatly exceed the $15 million it raised through a bond issue (supported by tuition) to pay for a new culinary school. Downtown backers promised to get additional help, but state law doesn't allow construction on promises, only on money in hand. Construction must start soon. The Tech Board had concerns, too, about security downtown and the ease of adding related facilities, such as a child care center.
Downtown didn't really enter the picture until November, months after planning for the South campus facility had begun. That was a late start.
Mayor Mark Stodola needs to get past understandable disappointment. Given a chance last week to say he'd endorse a coming Pulaski Tech request for a property tax increase — no matter the final decision on the culinary school — Stodola declined to do so.
It wasn't so long ago that the mayor was dining at a fancy Parisian restaurant on a publicly financed junket. He defended his expenditure as necessary to stay in good graces with the French-owned plane manufacturer, Dassault, that's a major employer at the Little Rock National Airport. One of the mayor's main selling points then: The steady stream of students trained for important jobs at the Dassault plant by — who else? — Pulaski Tech.
Dynamic Pulaski Tech will present future expansion possibilities along with its existing vital programs. It needs, not retaliation, but appreciation, including a property tax and a fair-minded mayor who doesn't take the culinary school setback personally.