As the Ascension Parish school district looks to an April election on a bond issue it hopes voters will approve to build four new schools, the last of the major renovation projects OK’d by voters in 2009 are underway.
In a district that gets between 400 to 600 new students each year, the School Board has gone through cycles of new construction and renovation in recent years in an effort to meet population growth.
“The school district is going to keep growing, because it’s a great community to live, work and raise your children,” said schools Superintendent Patrice Pujol.
The district has approximately 22,000 students, according to State Department of Education data.
In 2005, voters in Ascension Parish approved a $70 million bond issue that was focused on new construction.
The bond issue funded the construction of five new elementary schools. A sixth one was also built with funds that came from surplus sales tax revenues.
In 2009, the school district took a look at the older schools in the district, some more than 50 years old.
“We felt that we couldn’t let our existing facilities not be brought up to standards, as well,” Pujol said.
A $100 million bond issue passed in 2009 that funded more than 50 projects, most of them now complete and the remainder underway.
“To me, it was about getting those old schools up to where they need to be to give our students the same educational experience as everyone else,” said longtime School Board member Pat Russo, who was elected president of the board this month.
The projects, also designed to address overcrowding issues, began to roll out in 2010 with new projects scheduled to begin each year through 2015.
“Just about every older campus received some kind of upgrade,” Pujol said.
Among the largest projects from the 2009 bond issue completed to date:
Construction of a new G.W. Carver Primary at $16 million, a course taken after it was determined it would cost more to renovate the original school.
Renovations at Donaldsonville High, including upgrades to the band room and restrooms, new flooring throughout the main building and electrical upgrades, which are part of a $3 million package.
The first two phases of a $15 million building and renovation project at Prairieville Middle that included a new cafeteria and kitchen, as well as a new building on campus that houses classrooms and the school library and offices.
Most phases of a $4 million project at Galvez Middle School that brought more classrooms, an electrical upgrade and renovated restrooms.
A $9.2 million new classroom addition, as well as a courtyard and new playground at Gonzales Primary, a school that’s almost 80 years old.
“We were able to spend money at some of the older schools to make them look like new schools,” said Chad Lynch, the district’s director of planning and construction.
Work that began in 2015 on the remaining 2009 projects include construction of a new library at Donaldsonville High and exterior painting at the Lowery Elementary and Intermediate school, which also got an electrical upgrade.
A new classroom addition at Donaldsonville Primary is in the design stage and bids will be requested in the next month or so, Lynch said.
Work has started on the free-standing Freshman Academy buildings at three of the high schools in the district.
The 20-year bond proposal on the April 9 ballot is for $120 million that will pay for three new elementary schools and a new middle school as well as preliminary planning — not construction yet — for a new high school.
The primary schools would relieve overcrowding at six schools on the east side of the parish, the fastest-growing area of Ascension Parish.
The new middle school would help relieve overcrowding on the east bank.
There would also be additions and renovations at other schools.
The proposal, if passed, would be paid for by extending an existing 15.08-mill property tax dedicated for repairs and construction, the same funding mechanism for previous bond proposals.
The school district is keeping an eye on the expected growth in the parish, particularly in light of more than 40 new subdivisions that recently have been approved in the parish.
“It’s the largest number I’ve seen since I’ve been doing this,” said Lynch, who’s worked for the School Board since 1998.
How the new subdivisions will affect school enrollment “depends on how fast they’re built,” Lynch said.