Lafayette Parish School System facilities are in dire need of expansions and enhancements, with new Superintendent Don Aguillard estimating a bond or tax proposal for those needs could go to voters as early as next spring.
With some schools out of space for temporary buildings, several in need of wing expansions and most in need of vital amenities like air-conditioned gyms, Aguillard on Monday said attention to those matters can’t wait any longer.
Should the Lafayette Parish School Board pull together a proposal this month, voters could decide on it in the March election, Aguillard told the Acadiana Press Club. Otherwise, the board would have until October to put a measure on the April ballot.
“We’re going to be moving quickly to try to put together some packages to present to the board,” Aguillard said.
The school district has about $94 million in bonding capacity, Aguillard said. Should it retire its existing debts over the next two years, the district would be able to accrue new debts “at no additional cost to Lafayette citizens,” he added.
Aguillard also said he’s directed the school system’s financial officers to find more creative ways to calculate the bonding capacity to “squeeze” $100 million out of the equation.
One of the more urgent needs is a second phase of a new high school near Youngsville, which could be partially completed and open to freshmen and sophomores by the 2017-18 school year, Aguillard said.
About $70 million already has been budgeted for the first phase of the high school, which will have a capacity for about 1,750 students. The project in whole is scheduled to be complete by 2018.
A facilities master plan created in 2010 laid out about $1.1 billion in needs, Aguillard said, but a tax proposal to support a $561 million bond issue failed the following year. And amid a contentious relationship between some board members and former Superintendent Pat Cooper, discussions in 2013 to push another tax proposal didn’t make it to voters.
Aguillard said he’s asking for an analysis of those proposals to ensure failure doesn’t happen again.
Also on the school system’s high-priority list is an estimated $10 million to $12 million cost to air condition all of the schools’ gymnasiums, a potential $125 million project to rebuild Lafayette High School and wing expansions at schools including Woodvale, Broadmoor, Evangeline and Prairie elementary and Acadian Middle schools.
The school system relies on nearly 500 temporary buildings for its more than 30,000 students, and as population growth continues on the south side of Lafayette, the school district hasn’t kept up with attendance rezoning efforts to accommodate for that growth.
Attendance zones should be redrawn every three to five years, Aguillard said. Instead, some schools are at more than 200 percent capacity.
“There is no solution to this problem other than having the adults of this community decide what they want for the quality of schools in Lafayette Parish,” Aguillard said.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or call her at (337) 534-0825.