Livingston — Contractors are becoming as common a sight as teachers on campuses throughout Livingston Parish as nearly every high school in the district has major construction projects underway.
Walker and Denham Springs are eyeing expansions, Live Oak is gutting its old high school to transform it for younger students, and other schools are working on projects big and small.
During its last meeting, the Livingston Parish School Board approved a $1.2 million bid for an eight-classroom expansion at Denham Springs High. Though details are still being hammered out, the project may include several new and unusual features for a school — an on-campus credit union for students and faculty, a school store and a choir room, said Assistant Superintendent Joe Murphy.
The building will provide more classroom space for the high school, which along with nearby Denham Springs Freshman High, counted 2,237 students in last year’s campus census.
“We see a need for growth,” Murphy said.
School Board Vice President Buddy Mincey, who represents the Denham Springs area, said the school was running out of room on campus, but that the new building will help accommodate growth for several years, and he doesn’t see a need for a new high school in the city any time soon.
School officials have also talked about implementing a junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps program in Denham Springs, but those discussions are still in the early stages. Murphy said no one has even decided which branch of the military to approach to operate the ROTC program
The parish’s most ambitious and costly project in the works is at Walker High, where a planned campus expansion is estimated to cost about $23 million and will include more than 30 classrooms, a library, vocational training areas, a cafeteria, a band room and athletic facilities.
The designs for the academic building are still under review, but will likely resemble the façade of Walker Freshman High, said parish maintenance director Jim Wilson.
Because designs haven’t been approved yet, parish officials don’t have a clear timeline for the renovation, Murphy said.
Walker Principal Jason St. Pierre and board member Jimmy Watson estimate it will conclude sometime in late 2017 or early 2018.
However, some work has begun on a new parent pickup area, utility upgrades, and improvements to the field house such as lockers, a wrestling room, offices and areas for trainers. The field house work should be ready by August, Wilson said.
Meanwhile, in Watson, construction crews are racing in an attempt to convert the old, unused Live Oak High to a school for students in seventh and eighth grades, which would free up space at the middle and elementary schools.
Murphy recently said he is hopeful the project will be completed in time for the 2016-2017 school year — but not totally confident it will happen by the fall. Board member Kellee Hennessy, who represents the area, has said she will not push for a midyear move-in if the work isn’t done in time.
Crews are putting in new floors, ceilings and lights as well as rewiring the school for increased computer access as well as expanding the dining room and changing bus and drop-off lanes in a $4.5 million project funded by existing collections.
The district is also trying to make upgrades to the campus with substantial backing from FEMA so the gym can be used as an emergency shelter. A storm retrofit will replace the roof and add other features like storm shutters, said Mark Harrell, head of the Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Federal money has been allocated and is expected to be awarded in a few weeks, he said.
The east side of the parish is also abuzz with construction, and more could be on the way. On Dec. 10, the School Board will introduce plans for a new Springfield High and seek comments from the public. With an estimated cost around $14 million, the board will likely call for an election in the spring to allow district residents to vote on a new millage to pay for the school. Board member Jim Richardson, who represents the area, has said the current high school has run out of classroom space as well as room on campus for temporary buildings. If the plan is approved, middle school students would move into the existing Springfield High where air conditioning is being installed in the gym and is expected to be up and running by the time the weather heats up again, said assistant maintenance director Jerry Glascock.
The Albany district, which debuted a new $2 million high school field house this fall, also recently donated land to build a park at the request of two high school students. Glascock, who also serves on the Albany Town Council, said local businesses have gotten behind the project and donated labor to help clear the land. When finished, the 1.3-acre park is expected to have a children’s playground, walking track and volleyball court, incorporating many of the students’ ideas. It will look similar to the park in the town of Livingston, Glascock said.
Other projects abound:
Holden High will refurbish, rather than replace, its historic gym.
Southside Elementary is getting a new cafeteria and classrooms.
Southside Junior High is building a new band room with a gym expansion and possibly a new library to come.
Southfork Elementary, where four new classrooms opened this year, is expecting another three classrooms and a multipurpose building by Christmas.
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