East Baton Rouge School Board agrees to merge 5 academies, holds off on recommendation to demolish 90-year-old school building _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Wyandotte School building, built in 1925. The East Baton Rouge Parish school system has used the building for several different purposes through the years, including being used for a decade as Pre-K center. Currently it is an alternative school, known as Greenville Alternative at Wyandotte.

Five small, alternative schools in Baton Rouge, known as “superintendent academies,” will be merged into just three when the 2015-16 school year starts in August, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board decided Thursday.

The vote in favor of the merger was unanimous. The estimated annual savings is as much as $3.6 million.

And, at the urging of historic preservationists, school officials put on hold a recommendation to demolish one of those school buildings: the 90-year-old former Wyandotte elementary.

Academies at the Christa McAuliffe Center, 12000 Goodwood Blvd., and the former Wyandotte elementary school, 2525 Wyandotte St., will close shop May 21 when the school year ends.

Next year, the students from those schools will move to academies at Beechwood, 2555 DeSoto Drive; Greenville, 1645 N. Foster Drive; and Northdale, 10755 Cletus Drive.

As part of the shift, the students who now go to Beechwood will head to Greenville instead.

At current rates of enrollment, the merged centers would range from about 150 to 250 students. They range now from 88 students at Beechwood to 140 students at Northdale.

After hearing estimates of the expected enrollment of the merged superintendent academies, School Board member Connie Bernard pronounced herself satisfied.

“Those seem like much more manageable numbers,” she said.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor originally proposed demolishing Wyandotte, which was built in 1925, but the board put that idea on hold two weeks ago after receiving a last-minute appeal from the Foundation for Historical Louisiana.

Taylor told the board Thursday that his staff spoke with representatives from the foundation and nothing new emerged from that conversation that changed his mind that the old elementary school is worth saving.

“The building does not possess any real historical significance, except that it is 90 years old,” Taylor said.

The board could tear down the building, Taylor said, or declare the Wyandotte property surplus and sell it to someone who could make better use of the 4-acre property.

In an email Thursday, Carolyn Bennett, executive director of the Foundation for Historic Louisiana, thanked board members for holding off on the demolition. She said her staff had a good conversation with Larry Munson, director of facilities for the school system, about possible reuse or sale of Wyandotte and the possibility of obtaining historic preservation tax credits to refurbish it.

“Again, to each of you, our sincere appreciation for halting this proposed demolition,” Bennett said. “Once a landmark is gone, it’s gone.”

Christa McAuliffe Center, also a former elementary school, built in 1966, is more likely to stay a school. Taylor said he has no firm recommendation for that building but said it is located in an area that could attract students and could potentially be used to help other schools in the area, including a magnet school at Sherwood Middle School.

Taylor created the superintendent academies in 2013 as special schools to focus on students who were years behind their peers in middle school, thereby removing the kids from neighborhood middle schools struggling to educate them alongside students who were on grade level.

The academies, however, all quickly earned F grades, helping to double the number of F schools in East Baton Rouge Parish from eight in 2013 to 16 in 2014. The mergers will mean at least two fewer F schools in operation next year.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.