The search for an architect to design a new school to replace Katharine Drexel Elementary is expected to start soon — although how soon one will actually be hired for the project could depend on how consultants rate the district’s other facility needs.
The replacement school for Drexel Elementary in Broussard is one of the four projects included on a list that could be funded with a $126 million bond sale that was approved by the School Board on Wednesday evening.
At the top of the list of projects is a new high school for the Broussard/Youngsville area with an estimated price tag of $73 million for an initial phase of construction. Other projects on the list are an estimated $9 million in classroom additions for Plantation Elementary and Milton Elementary/Middle schools.
All four school projects are in the southern part of the parish.
Drexel Elementary Principal Denise Soileau said Thursday that she was excited about the board’s decisions to address population growth in the Broussard and Youngsville areas.
Soileau said she has 16 modular classrooms at her school. Attendance zones were redrawn to shift about 100 new students to the school as the school system sought to provide relief to the overcrowded campus at Green T. Lindon Elementary.
“We rezoned approximately 100 students, and they are still at their capacity,” she said of Lindon. “The Youngsville-Broussard area is growing at a rapid rate.”
Last year, Soileau said, Drexel completed the school year with 548 students and, as of Thursday, had 680 students on the campus.
The influx isn’t only from rezoned Lindon students who live closer to the Drexel campus but from new students who have moved in from out of state and from English as a second language learners who previously were on Broadmoor Elementary’s campus. This school year, the school district relocated some of its ESL sites as a way to balance populations at some schools and also lessen the strain on the school district’s transportation costs by centralizing ESL programs.
This summer, nearly 200 students zoned for Lindon and Youngsville Middle were rezoned to Drexel and Broussard Middle in an attempt to provide some relief to those cramped campuses.
Prior to the School Board’s vote Wednesday to advertise for an architect for the Drexel design job, retired Lafayette Parish educator Pat Sonnier raised questions about the timing of rebuilding a school in Broussard.
Sonnier urged the board to defer action on the new elementary school and other additions until consultants complete an update of districtwide facility needs. That update is expected next month. The consultants compiled a comprehensive master plan for the parish schools in 2010 and are working to update that plan and provide the School Board a revised priority list of facility projects.
“Was Katharine Drexel re-prioritized to be built now because they have a lot of elementary schools that are in dire need of repair or wings added and they’ve been in that condition for 30 or more years?” Sonnier asked. “I think we possibly need to wait until that report comes in.”
It could cost about $32.3 million to build a new school to replace Drexel — though that estimate could change, pending the design process.
Board member Justin Centanni, chairman of the board’s finance committee, told Sonnier that the advertisement for the Drexel design job was a necessary step in the process and that the board would next have to decide whether to hire someone and move forward with the project.
Centanni said later during the meeting that he’d like to see the $32 million earmarked for the Drexel project moved into a contingency fund until consultants complete their work.
As the facility consultants work on an updated priority list, a demographer also is working on a rezoning plan for the entire parish, which also will affect student populations on campuses.
“I am leaning toward that this school is needed in the southern end of the parish for population purposes,” Centanni said, and he added that he’d still like to wait for the separate consultants’ report on facilities and zoning needs.
Meanwhile, it could take four to six months before the board sells the bonds — which will be done incrementally to generate the money needed to pay for the project.
Billy Guidry, the school system’s chief financial officer, said the financing is being done that way so the system isn’t paying interest on money it doesn’t immediately need to fund the construction projects.
He said revenue from the bond sale isn’t needed to keep the preliminary work on the construction projects rolling. Professional services fees to architects can be paid from the board’s capital fund for now, he said, and the fund will be reimbursed later with revenue from the bond sale.
Guidry said a resolution will come before the full board that sets out the steps for the sale and reimbursement. Approval from the State Bond Commission also is needed.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.