Springfield Middle schoolers are outgrowing more than clothes and shoes.
The school needs a new water well, and the Livingston Parish School Board is looking to the Carter Plantation Community Development District as a possible solution, but several issues will have to be addressed first.
Thursday, the School Board voted to begin negotiations with Carter Plantation to explore the prospect of hitching Springfield Middle to the development district’s well.
Board members hope the arrangement could save them money in the long term. Board member Keith Martin, who represents the school’s district, also believes a switch could eliminate a lot of the headaches at the school, which must test its water’s quality and keep up with health standards and upgrades. Employees from custodian to principal have been tasked with monitoring the water and making sure the system has necessary equipment like backflow preventers and threadless faucet heads. According to Martin, the maintenance costs can run up to $800 in a quarter.
“It’s becoming kind of a chore for us to keep up with all the regulations,” Martin said.
“We’re just not set up for that. Schools are not set up to be in the water business.”
Switching to the development district’s system would remove the school’s burden of regulation and allow them to switch their current well to nonpotable water for use in irrigation.
But questions remain.
Questions like, who will pay to run about a mile of line to connect the school?
When the Carter Plantation’s board first heard of the plan to connect the school, “everyone was disposed to it,” remembered Pat Beauchamp, the community district’s attorney.
“This is something we could do to be helpful.”
However, the community district also hoped it would be able to use the school’s well as a secondary source, said board member Ricky Juban. Upon further investigation, the district determined the school’s well was too small.
“It just doesn’t look like it’s going to work,” Juban said Thursday. “We were hoping it would benefit both of us, but now it won’t.”
The two groups also would have to negotiate a usage rate, as the school would not receive the typical development district fee.
For now, the district board is holding off on any action until they talk to the School Board about how much financial backing they can provide, Juban said.
After Thursday’s School Board meeting, attorney Mark Boyer declined to answer specific questions about a potential deal until he had a chance to speak with the district.
The district has had its own water-related financial concerns. The district issued $23.6 million in tax-exempt bonds in 2004 and 2005 to pay for infrastructure including a water system. According to a 2013 audit by Hienz & Macaluso LLC, roughly $18.5 million was outstanding on the bonds as of June 30, 2012, and no principal or interest was paid in fiscal year 2013.
When asked about the district’s financial circumstances and whether they might impact a potential deal, Martin said he was “not too up to date on their personal finances” but that he was impressed with its water system and thought it would be to the school’s advantage to link up.
“I don’t think the water system is going anywhere,” he said.
According to its audit, the district was slightly more than $7 million in the red at the end of June 2013.
“The majority of this amount is related to bonds Payable ...” the document states, referencing the bonds used to fund the building of infrastructure.
Beauchamp emphasized the water system is paid for and functioning, and it earns the district a modest revenue. Though the district could cede control to the parish, there has been no discussion of doing so, and the district looks to operate the system “for the foreseeable future,” Beauchamp said.
The district’s debts are in forbearance. The district is hoping for a cancellation or rearrangement of a “significant portion” of their debt by the end of the year, though he declined to discuss specifics of the plan.
Real estate investor Claude Penn and his affiliated companies hold all but about $700,000 of the district’s outstanding debt. Thursday, Penn’s attorney, Ralph Hood, declined to comment on future plans for the debt.