The Lafayette Parish School Board took more steps Wednesday toward starting school construction in the southern part of the parish with its approval of a $126 million bond sale and its decision to employ a construction manager to oversee building a high school.
The board also voted to advertise for an architect to design a school to replace Katharine Drexel Elementary in Broussard.
The use of a “construction manager at risk” is expected to expedite the high school project and keep it on track to open as soon as August 2017 for nearly 1,500 students — likely freshmen and sophomores. Construction managers at risk are hired based on their qualifications, not by the lowest bid. The idea is to have the manager in on the project at the beginning, rather than after the plans are drawn up.
Architects met in an initial planning workshop with school system staff and residents in late August and plan to present a design scheme to the full board in October. During the workshop, the group favored a three-story building with an atrium to showcase the school’s planned career and technical courses.
Board member Elroy Broussard was the only board member to vote against the idea of hiring a construction manager at risk.
The recommendations for the bond sale and advertisement for an architect for the Drexel project were unanimously approved by the nine-member board.
Last month, the board’s finance committee approved a recommended bond sale up to $120 million. Since then, finance staff has indicated the board could sell up to $126 million incrementally over the next two years to be repaid with existing tax revenues.
The sale would fund an estimated $73 million for the construction of the initial phase of the new high school; $32 million for the first phase of the replacement school for Katharine Drexel Elementary; and $9.2 million each for new classroom wings at Milton Elementary/Middle and Plantation Elementary. About $2.1 million would be set aside in a contingency fund.
The high school is the top priority on the list of projects, followed by the Drexel replacement, then Milton and then Plantation.
After the vote on the bond sale, finance committee chairman Justin Centanni proposed the board revise the projects list and place the nearly $33 million for Drexel in a contingency fund until the board receives a report from consultants who are separately working on a new zoning plan for the parish and until the board approves a prioritized list of school projects for the entire district. The school facilities list associated with the bond sale will be taken up at a future meeting.
Also on Wednesday, the board voted 8-1 to sell the old St. Antoine Elementary property to its long-term tenant, the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office. Board member Jeremy Hidalgo, who is also the chairman of the board’s facilities committee, voted against the sale. Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry told the board the cost to renovate the building would exceed its appraised value. He noted the agreement would allow the school system to use the building’s cafeteria space for 10 years at a cost of $30 a month to offset utilities.
Prior to the vote, Broussard asked if the board could sell it to another party. Guidry explained that a few years ago, the board appraised Antoine and another nearby shuttered school, the old J. Wallace James Elementary, also leased to the Sheriff’s Office, to sell them both as surplus properties. At that time, the Sheriff’s Office purchased the old J. Wallace James school, but there were no offers made on the St. Antoine property, Guidry said.
The Sheriff’s Office has had a presence at the school since March 2001 — when the school was closed as part of its desegregation order — and paid $1,000 a month in rent until September 2007, Matt Dugas, the school system’s finance director, said prior to the meeting. The Sheriff’s Office has used the building for office space and for its training and community outreach programs, and while the agency has constructed a new public safety complex on Willow Street, it would like to retain the building, Dugas said.
“We can’t do anything with it and don’t want to put in the $500,000 to $600,000 it’s going to take to bring it up to code. It’s not worth the repairs that it needs,” Dugas said.
From October 2007 until March 2013, the Sheriff’s Office remained on the site rent-free because the agency paid for needed repairs to the building and for air conditioning, Dugas said. He added that from April 2013 until now, the Sheriff’s Office has paid $1,725 a month in rent.
Dugas said the building will still be in service to taxpayers, but through the Sheriff’s Office.
An appraisal conducted in 2007 by Associated Appraisers showed that the building was worth $414,000, and the appraiser confirmed the amount was still accurate, according to information presented Wednesday by finance staff. Renovations to bring the building up to code were estimated at $650,000, according to a February 2015 letter from Abell+Crozier+Davis.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.