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Keila Stovall, right, an EBR school system employee, conducts one of the breakout sessions during the second of three three community forums to hear from residents in southeast Baton Rouge to determine their interest in renewing a 1-cent sale tax which likely will go to voters next April 29.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

About a dozen residents of Baton Rouge on Thursday night sat at four tables in the Istrouma High School cafeteria and were given a task. They were asked to take a stack of 24 cards, each with a multi-million dollar proposed school construction project on them, and sort them in order of importance.

Perry Franklin, the former executive director of the Mid-City Redevelopment Authority and now a consultant engaged by the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said the school system has a list of $545 million potential projects but expects to generate just $417 million for school construction over the next decade. Roughly, $128 million has to go, he said.

“We need your help in helping us reduce this list,” he said.

Jonathan Jefferson, a parent of a student at Mayfair Lab School, said the exercise was eye-opening.

“It’s interesting to see how much work needs to be done,” Jefferson said. “The process is painful, but it needs to be done.”

The money to pay for all this school construction comes only if a 1-cent sales tax that likely will to head to voters April 29 is renewed for 10 more years. About half of the revenue from that tax goes to school construction.

An in-house committee that began meeting months ago is on the second draft of the list of projects it would like to see chosen. That second list was presented to the parish School Board Oct. 17.

It’s already changed. The estimated cost has gone up $15 million in the past week. That's to pay for potential land acquisition in south Baton Rouge for three planned new schools in the southern part of the parish, school officials said.

The newest list calls for at least 30 schools, plus potentially more on proposed work at 15 other schools where the cost of work has yet to be estimated. Of those projects, 10 are new or rebuilt schools.

The latest list was informed by input from the public during three forums in late September and early October. Istrouma High’s forum was part of a new round of three forums. The first forum was held Tuesday night at Mayfair Lab and the third is scheduled Nov. 9 at Lee High.

Deb McElgin has a child in first grade at Mayfair Lab. She missed Tuesday night’s forum but when she heard what was being discussed she realized she needed to attend future forums.

The selective magnet school at 9880 Hyacinth Ave. was one of the 24 cards that people are sorting through. If approved, Mayfair Lab would be torn down and rebuilt, but the K-8 school would add a new high school as part of the deal.

“Something’s not going to get funded,” McElgin said. “If we’re not here, we’re not going to be on that list.”

Although the event occurred at Istrouma High School, only a couple of people connected with the school were in attendance.

“I think people just forgot,” said Jackie Mims, a former School Board member and co-chairman of Istrouma Advisory Committee.

Istrouma High has already received much help, but the work is not done. The school system is spending $24.1 million to renovate the 66-year-old facility. But school officials are still hoping to get renovations to an annex building, which could occur over the next few months, as well as more money to renovate its auditorium. Renovations to the auditorium were on a list of possible projects presented to the board Oct. 17 but were not among the 24 cards handed out Thursday.

The historic north Baton Rouge high school reopened Aug. 9, three years after the state closed the school in 2014. It has about 400 students, all in either ninth or 10th grades, but has capacity for about 1,200 students as it expands. A companion Istrouma Middle School, which has 118 students, is spending the first semester elsewhere, but is set to move into the facility soon as well.

BR FLAIM, a magnet school that focuses on foreign language immersion, is not on any lists so far, but is trying to get added. It has had parents at every forum so far and Thursday night was no exception. The school is moving this summer into the former Valley Park Junior High at 4510 Bawell St., but it is seeking more money to improve that facility and perhaps add middle school grades one day.

Hannah Birchman was present Thursday not only to advocate for BR FLAIM — short for Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet — but also Westdale Middle School. That school currently is home to the small middle school foreign language program where her third-grader who is currently learning Mandarin Chinese will eventually go.

“Westdale Middle has a wide range of programs,” Birchman said. “It needs a facility that accommodate all of that.”

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.