By Bobby Flash Melton
On Wednesday, Jan. 25, an open house was held for the recently completed addition to the Benton County Board of Education Office (BOE) at 197 Briarwood Street in Camden.
Benton County/Camden Chamber of Commerce members assisted BOE personnel in hosting the event, which also was promoted as a “Chamber Coffee.” Approximately 65 persons were in attendance, including personnel from Benton County Schools, governmental officials, business representatives, and Chamber members.
After welcomes from Director of Schools Mark Florence and Chamber Director Lorie Matlock, guests were given a tour of the expanded facility. Refreshments and coffee were provided by the Benton County Schools Coordinated Health Program and DayMaker Cafe.
Florence said that funding for the addition came from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Program (ESSER). After the BOE approved the plans, work on the project started in February of 2022 and as completed last fall.
“We have been running out of space for a long time now in our existing building and I’m very proud of the plan our team put together for this expanded facility. I appreciate the commitment school board members made to this project and the vision they had to provide us with a facility that will be of benefit to the entire school system for years to come,” said Florence.
The BOE addition features a large conference room for school board meetings, the director’s office, a financial office, and new restrooms. There is also a basement extension underneath which is used for storage and distribution of textbooks. BOE personnel began to use the additional space areas in November. Both the December and January school board meetings were held in the new conference room.
The upstairs room designated for BOE meetings has been named the “Benton County Board of Education Support Center” and can be used for other purposes. Florence said the room can be utilized for staff meetings, teacher training, and with the large wall monitors Zoom meetings or distance learning sessions can be held. It also can be used for other community meetings provided that there wasn’t a scheduling conflict.
“We welcome any group or organization that helps make us all better together,” Florence said. “We want this to be a facility that our entire community can be proud of and use.”
The firm of Todd Prince Construction built the new addition. “Todd is a graduate of CHS and most of his employees are from Benton County,” Florence explained. “It’s always good when a project like benefits local workers and our county economy.”
The addition to the BOE building comes nearly 35 years after its original construction in 1988 by students at what is now the Senator Frank P. Lashlee Career and Technical Center and their instructor, the late Jim Latendresse. School Board member Dr. Betty Jo Douglas remembers when the BOE offices moved from their prior location in the Benton County Courthouse.
“I was elected superintendent in May 1988 but was not sworn in until Sept. 1, 1988. We moved into the BOE building in August just a few weeks before my swearing in. Dean Presson, who I was replacing as superintendent, graciously let me move into the superintendent’s office in advance of Sept. 1,” Douglas related. “I was the first person to serve as superintendent in this building and at the time we had plenty of space to perform our duties. Things have grown so much since then, so it was time to upgrade. This addition is a big boost to everyone who works here, as well as our entire school district and community. I’m excited that we have it.”
Florence thanked Matlock and the Chamber for holding an official Chamber ribbon cutting to celebrate the new space. “You’ve helped get the word out about today and because of that we have an excellent turnout,” Florence said. “I appreciate your support to us in so many ways this morning and we’re always happy to work with the Chamber for the betterment of Benton County.”
“I’m so pleased with all the people who turned out this morning to see the new Support Center and visit with us for a Chamber Coffee event. This has been a great day for this joint activity,” Matlock said. “I appreciate Director Florence and his staff for working with us and allowing us to present some information about the Chamber of Commerce this morning.”
Chamber Board President Kevin Stepp called attendance at the open house “very impressive” and said he’s looking forward to more Chamber Coffee events. “These coffees are networking events where people can come together to share ideas, talk about careers, and build relationships,” he commented. “I see nothing but positive things as we go forward with them. If you haven’t attended one yet, please check our Facebook page for details on when and where our next one will be held. Everyone is welcome!”
Both Matlock and Stepp pointed out that in recent weeks approximately a dozen new members have joined the Chamber. “We want to continue to grow in membership this year. We have membership levels available for businesses, government agencies, non-profit groups, and individuals,” Matlock said. For information on becoming a Chamber member, visit the Chamber office or call 731-584-8395.