Walker High School project to go out to bids, construction could start as early as March _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Ziler Architects rendering of the front of the future Walker High School school office/main classrooms building that will sit facing Florida Boulevard In Livingston Parish, nearly every high school is planning or undergoing expansion, refurbishment, or replacement. Walker High is the parish's most ambitious project, expected to cost roughly $25 million.

After months of planning, construction on the main portion of the Walker High School overhaul is expected to begin soon.

Thursday night, the Livingston Parish School Board voted to put the project out for bid; the project involves dozens of new classrooms, a library, vocational training areas, cafeteria and music areas. School Board member Jimmy Watson, who represents Walker, said it took several months to complete designs that would fit the $23 million budget.

All the essential components stayed in the plans, though school leaders had to abandon some extra trimmings.

“(The new school) may not be a Rolls-Royce, but (it will) be a Cadillac,” he said.

Where previous designs called for several small buildings, the new plans have combined them into larger structures, said architect Jim Ziler. Some areas originally intended to be built with brick will instead be built with metal panels. The prospective band room and cafeteria both shrank during edits but should still fit the campus’s needs, he said.

“They’re keeping a lot of the good, functional components,” Ziler said.

And while the campus may not rival the new Zachary High, “it’s going to be very nice,” Watson said. School officials have said the design for the façade will resemble elements from Walker Freshman High School.

Ziler expects to solicit quotes for the project through the end of February, so the School Board could approve construction by March. Building the new school will take between 18 months and two years, Watson said. “I think it’s finally going to come to fruition,” he said.

Thursday evening, Livingston School Board members also added their names to a resolution criticizing the possible expansion of power of New Schools for Baton Rouge. The nonprofit has applied to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to become the state’s first private entity with the power to approve new charter schools, an authority currently reserved for BESE or the local school boards.

Several school districts have denounced the possibility, including nearby Tangipahoa Parish earlier in the week.

“(New Schools for Baton Rouge) report, basically, to no one,” said Livingston Superintendent John Watson.

Several board members echoed the sentiment.

“Our public schools are doing the work here,” said board President Malcolm Sibley. “We’re educating kids the way they’re supposed to be educated.”

Vice President Buddy Mincey said BESE would be “crazy” to even consider granting New Schools those powers.

In other business, Sibley and Mincey were re-elected as president and vice president, respectively, at the outset of a new year. The board approved Belinda Avant as principal for South Walker Elementary School and accepted the resignation of Principal Paula Green of the Holden School.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.