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Young students hope off an East Baton Rouge Parish Public Schools bus on Charing Way Avenue near Washburn Drive after their second day of school, Thursday, August 10, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La. ORG XMIT: BAT1708101618041037

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

The East Baton Rouge Parish school system is putting together a “wish list” for school construction over the next decade that envisions up to 15 new schools, including both creating new campuses and replacing existing facilities.   

Three of the proposed new schools would be at unspecified locations in southeast Baton Rouge, a fast-growing area with few public schools. The other new campuses would involve tearing down and rebuilding current schools, including four popular magnets — Baton Rouge Center for the Visual and Performing Arts (or BRCVPA), Mayfair Lab School, Sherwood Middle School and Westdale Heights Academic Magnet School.

Other schools that might be completely rebuilt include Brownfields Elementary, Glasgow Middle, Southdowns School and Westdale Middle School.

As part of the plan, as many as 11 existing schools could also close.

All of this is contingent on renewal of an existing tax supporting the school system. Once the parish School Board approves a final list, the whole package would head to voters, likely on the April 28 ballot, for the proposed renewal of a 1-cent sales tax that was last approved in spring 2008. Just about half the tax is dedicated to school construction. 

Under the plan, which officials say is still a work in progress, another 16 schools could see major renovations to at least part of their campuses, including McKinley and Tara high schools.

Three schools — Broadmoor High, Sherwood Middle and Westdale Elementary — could either be rebuilt or renovated. Ideas for Sherwood Middle range widely, from building a new school built to just redoing access to the school’s office.

So far, 63 facilities didn’t make the cut at all. Fourteen are administrative centers and 10 are charter schools using buildings built by the school system. Many of the 39 remaining are recent constructions or have already undergone major renovations.

The “preliminary project list” was released earlier this month and is set to be discussed at three community meetings, all starting at 6:30 p.m:

  • Monday —Instructional Resource Center, 1022 S. Foster Drive.
  • Tuesday — Woodlawn Middle School, 14939 Tiger Bend Road.
  • Oct. 3 — Claiborne Elementary School, 4707 Denham St.

At least seven more community meetings are planned later in the fall. Online surveys are also planned.

The list was presented Sept. 14 at a School Board meeting but has not been posted online. It is expected to change frequently in the coming weeks.

"The list of proposals is fluid, broad and intended to serve as a 'wish list' of projects for future consideration," said Gwynn Shamlin, a spokesman for the school system. "At this time there is no definitive project list."

The initial project list was developed over the last two months by an in-house committee and is largely based on ideas solicited from school principals.

School officials have yet to estimate what it will all cost but believe all of the projects would cost far more than the $477 million the school system is estimated to have to spend between 2019 and 2030 if the tax is renewed. 

Stacey Dupre, an executive director for school leadership who is leading the in-house committee, said once major projects are selected, the committee will see what smaller projects the school system can still afford to do.

“When we went shopping as a child, that was my mother’s philosophy: You’ve got to buy the food first and if we have anything else, we’ll help you.”

The East Baton Rouge Parish system has 80-plus schools in operation with about 41,000 students. It serves students across the entire parish, except in Baker, Central and Zachary.

The 1-cent sales tax was first approved in 1998 and was renewed by wide margins in 2003 and then again in 2008.

Over the past two decades, an estimated $557 million worth of work has been done to improve school campuses. The current 10-year construction plan has financed the renovation/expansion of Baton Rouge Magnet High and the demolition and reconstruction of Lee High, among other projects.

Despite all that work, Baton Rouge public schools remain old — on average they date to 1968, almost a half-century ago — and many need a lot of work. The total amount of deferred maintenance on all EBR school buildings runs to nearly $150 million.

Some schools that had extensive, but not total, renovations might be back in consideration for further work. 

For instance, Scotlandville High School, renovated in 2005, is up either for renovated or newly constructed athletic facilities. Istrouma High School, which reopened in August after $24.1 million in work, is on the list for renovations to its auditorium, something school officials were unable to find enough money to undertake.

Finally, Glen Oaks High School is on the list for major repairs, but the extent of that work depends on ongoing negotiations with FEMA about rebuilding the school. It was one of 10 Baton Rouge public schools that flooded in August 2016.

Most of the 11 school facilities up for closure have been on such lists before.

For instance, White Hills Elementary, which is located just outside Baker, currently has just 148 students. The school has escaped closure multiple times. The latest proposal would close the school and merge it with nearby Brownfields Elementary, which would be rebuilt.

Four alternative schools also are on the chopping block; they would be merged with other alternative schools.

The desire to build more schools in southeast Baton Rouge is driving the possible closure of an alternative high school, Arlington Preparatory Academy, which serves fewer than 100 students who mostly require special education services because of disabilities. The 931 Dean Lee Drive property is located south of LSU. Superintendent Warren Drake has in the past floated the idea of using that property to build a new school.

Twenty-plus acres of vacant property in Jefferson Terrace area is in development now as a possible school to serve south Baton Rouge. A public meeting is scheduled Oct. 10 at Jefferson Terrace Elementary to discuss what to build on the land.

And, under the proposal released Thursday, Mayfair Lab School, located at 9880 Hyacinth Ave., south of the Mall of Louisiana, would get a new facility. In addition to replacing the 55-year-old elementary school building, it would add a small high school to the campus as well.

Building any additional schools in southeast Baton Rouge, though, would require buying new land in an area with limited available property. Drake said he’s considering several options on that front but offered few details.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier