The Central School Board took another step Monday toward building a new high school when it hired an environmental consultant to identify asbestos and plan for the demolition of the former Greenwell Springs mental hospital.

The board unanimously hired Rayner Consulting Group, of Baton Rouge. Rayner’s initial estimate is $1.6 million to demolish the medical complex, which has buildings dating back to 1930. The school system will pay Rayner an estimated $133,000 for its work on the project.

Only board member David Walker was absent Monday.

The board opted not to conduct new field samples and instead rely on asbestos samples taken in the early 1990s by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, cutting almost $8,000 from Rayner’s expected fee.

In the spring, the school system entered a cooperative endeavor with DHH to use the property for educational purposes for the next five years.

The property is just north of the intersection of Hooper and Greenwell Springs roads along the banks of the Amite River. For more than a century, it was the home of a state hospital complex that DHH closed in spring 2012, transferring the remaining mental patients to East Louisiana State Hospital at Jackson.

Rayner’s schedule calls for putting out bids this spring and then seven months of asbestos removal, demolition and clearing the site. Once that work is done, Superintendent Michael Faulk said, he plans to hire someone to determine the value of the 175 acres and try to buy it from the state. He said the money the school system spends now improving the property can be deducted later from the future purchase price.

The board on Monday also settled on what it will require of any group seeking to preserve and restore the old Central High School girls gym built in 1927.

In September, a group of history-loving residents who call themselves the Central Cultural Foundation raised $10,000 to stop the old wooden building’s imminent demolition. The board gave them until mid-March to come up with a viable plan to refurbish the condemned gym.

The school plans to require the following of any group that takes on the challenge:

  • An assessment by a structural engineer
  • A long-term plan of the future use of the old gym
  • Plans and specifications from a licensed architect or engineer
  • A cost estimate from licensed contractor
  • An outline detailing how an outside group would fund both the restoration and the maintenance of the restored gym.

The board also approved its final but unaudited budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year. That budget showed financial reserves for the school system increasing from $10.8 million to $11.2 million, money that carries over into the current fiscal year.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier