As a Feb. 22 vote nears, East Baton Rouge Parish school leaders are busy preparing a final wish list of $417 million worth of construction projects that would be built over a decade. But it’s a list still filled with blanks and question marks.
The board is putting the project list together as it prepares to place a 1-cent-sales tax renewal before voters on April 29. Revenue from the tax would be used to pay for the work.
In the coming days, projects may be added, dropped or reworked considerably. Previously released cost figures could well change.
While school officials are expected to release a construction schedule ahead of the board's vote, they've yet to release even a tentative one. So a cherished project might make it on the list but might not be built until as late as 2029.
Indeed, several projects voters approved in 2008, when the 1-cent sales tax in 2008 was last renewed, are only now being built. In a couple of cases, construction has yet to begin.
After nearly closing Park Elementary a year ago, the East Baton Rouge School Board is moving forward with a tear-down and rebuild employing a …
Fifty-one percent of the 1-cent sales tax, first approved by voters in 1998, goes to school construction. Forty-one percent supports employee salaries and benefits. And finally 8 percent is set aside to fund student discipline centers as well as alternative education and reducing truancy. Voters will be asked to vote on each separately.
Proposition 1, which pays for school construction, is receiving the most debate so far. It funds a mix of projects, some listed by name, some not. The latest estimate is this proposition will generate $417 million between 2019 and 2029.
Proposition 3, which supports employee salaries and benefits, however, is historically the one that ensures the most turnout on election day. The school system’s 5,500-plus employees would see their salaries cut by thousands of dollars if voters fail to renew that part of the sales-tax.
Here are a few of the most prominent projects still on the construction list:
- New schools in Southeast Baton Rouge. Latest proposal is to build a “K-12 complex” on unspecified land that would have to be acquired somewhere in the “southern part of the parish.” It’s not clear whether that would be two or three schools on this campus. Initially, plans were to build a separate elementary, middle and high school here. Southeast Baton Rouge, particularly areas south of I-10 and east of LSU, are among the fastest growing areas of the parish but they have relatively few public schools.
- Tearing down and rebuilding six schools: Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts, Brownfields Elementary, Glasgow Middle, Mayfair Lab, University Terrace Elementary and Westdale Heights Academic Magnet. In the case of Brownfields and University Terrace, they would be rebuilt large enough to absorb student from nearby Buchanan and White Hills elementaries, which would close.
- Major renovations to five schools: Broadmoor High, Broadmoor Middle, McKinley High, Sherwood Middle and Westdale Middle schools. In the case of Broadmoor Middle, the current school would close to make for the popular magnet school, Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet, or BR FLAIM.
The process of developing future school construction projects began last year.
CSRS/Tillage Construction, the private partnership which oversees most public school construction in Baton Rouge, assessed the condition of school facilities.
Superintendent Warren Drake convened an in-house committee in the summer to refine the list of projects. First, principals made suggestions, then members of the general public chimed in at six community forums that were held in the fall and another four held over the past three weeks. More people filled out online surveys as recently as Thursday. Meanwhilem the in-house committee Drake established has continued to meet.
East Baton Rouge Parish school officials have trimmed their school construction wish list for the next decade by $132 million as they prepare …
An incomplete fourth draft of the project list was showcased during the most recent forums and included a couple of recent change intended to keep schools closer to their historic homes.
For example, Brownfields Elementary is now to be rebuilt where it is currently located at 11615 Ellen Drive rather than on property on the other side of the Metro Airport as was originally proposed.
And while Buchanan and University Terrace elementary schools are still being merged, plans have been abandoned to build a new school for both two miles east on the property of Southdowns School at 2050 Hood Avenue.
The most contentious debates so far have involved high schools. There are no plans to completely renovate or rebuild any high schools as has been done at Baton Rouge Magnet High and Lee High. But Broadmoor and McKinley high schools are likely receive $30 million-plus each in repairs and additions.
While not on any of the lists so far, Drake said he plans to look at making for some improvements at Tara High, although what they would be hasn't been specified. Belaire High, is also seeking additional repair money.
Supporters of Glen Oaks and McKinley high schools packed recent forums at their schools, pushing for grander rebuilding plans for their schools.
Glen Oaks High was flooded in August 2016 and has been only partially rebuilt. The School Board recently agreed to $16 million more in repairs over the next two years, with plans of doing even more work at the high school if the 1-cent sales tax is renewed. How much more is unclear. School supporters want substantial improvements made at the school.
As they have at previous community forums, East Baton Rouge Parish school officials finished their presentation Tuesday night on proposed long…
McKinley High supporters want a completely rebuilt school so they can better compete with nearby Baton Rouge Magnet and Lee high schools.
At a forum Tuesday at McKinley High, Appellate Judge John Michael Guidry, a graduate of the class of 1980, summed up the sentiment when he asked Superintendent Drake this question: “If we can spend a $50 million to build a new Lee High and a new Baton Rouge High, why do we have to have a patchwork at McKinley High?”
Drake argued that the $30 to $35 million worth of improvements that the school system has planned for McKinley High would be tantamount to building a new school. The master plan calls for annexing eight adjacent acres now occupied by Buchanan Elementary and building a separate junior high featuring grades seven to nine.
“You’re going to see a brand new campus with the changes in the Buchanan property,” Drake promised. “I think you’re going to see that.”