McKinley High School will play host Tuesday to the last of 10 community forums as the East Baton Rouge Parish school system races to nail down a list of up to $417 million worth of school construction projects.

And the forum is expected to be packed with alumni pressing for a rebuilt McKinley High.

This is the last public meeting where residents have a chance to say their piece before Feb. 22, when the School Board plans to approve a final list it will send to voters at an April 29 special election. Voters will be asked to renew a 1-cent sales tax, about half of which goes to school construction.


The first six community forums were sparsely attended but attendance has picked up at more recent ones. The Jan. 25 forum at Glen Oaks High School drew more than 400 people.

The final forum, set to begin 6:30 p.m. at McKinley High, also promises to be well attended. Supporters of the historic high school have been pressing for a school rebuild, citing overcrowding, floating teachers, several temporary buildings, as well as outdated labs and other spaces.

“What we would like is to have our school rebuilt to the standard of Baton Rouge High and Lee High because we are competing with them for students,” said Dale Flowers, president of the McKinley Alumni Association.

Baton Rouge High and Lee High schools have been renovated and rebuilt with money from the 1-cent sales tax. Those projects cost more than $50 million each. McKinley High has received more modest renovations during that time, totaling about $18.5 million, though the school still has ample deferred maintenance needs.

McKinley High is likely to receive more construction work if voters renew that sales tax, but school officials have thus far stopped short of agreeing to rebuild the whole school, which was constructed in 1961. The latest draft plan, released Jan. 23, calls for adding a junior high with grades 7-to-9 next to the high school on property now occupied by Buchanan Elementary. The overall cost is unclear, but an earlier draft of the list called for spending $30 million at the high school.


As part of the plan, Buchanan Elementary would give up its eight acres at 1222 E. Buchanan St. and merge with nearby University Elementary, which would be rebuilt and expanded on its property at 575 W. Roosevelt St. The combined school would add a sixth grade and would feed into McKinley High’s new junior high component. The idea is to keep children in middle school grades closer to home; since 2004 they have been reassigned to more distant middle schools.

McKinley High is the third-largest school in the East Baton Rouge school system, with about 1,200 students. Its enrollment, which for years hovered around 1,000 students, jumped in recent years as nearby high schools closed or were reorganized. Enrollment peaked in 2015 with more than 1,400 students, but has declined since.

Lee and Istrouma schools, which had closed, reopened in 2016 and 2017 in rebuilt and renovated facilities. McKinley High’s recent decline is most noticeable at ninth grade, where enrollment has shrunk from 420 to about 280 students in the past two years.

Those who miss Tuesday’s forum can still fill out a survey online to offer their feedback. The deadline to complete it is Thursday at midnight.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.