DONALDSONVILLE — The Ascension Parish School Board is looking at an election date of April 2, 2016, to bring a bond proposal to voters, but the exact amount of money they want to raise and the projects they would fund have yet to be determined.
Board committees have talked about using existing tax millages to borrow the money needed to build a new high school, a new middle school, three new primary schools and to add classrooms at some schools.
But one board member said Tuesday she wants to see a new primary school building constructed in Donaldsonville rather than proceeding with plans for a $2 million renovation of the existing primary school.
“We have an opportunity to do something good for these kids,” said Robyn Penn Delaney, the board member for the Donaldsonville area. She said the current Donaldsonville Primary School was built too close to CF Industries, when it was constructed 28 years ago.
“We can’t change the past, but we have a chance to do something in the future” with a new bond issue, Delaney said.
Donaldsonville Primary School was built on La. 3089 in 1987, a little less than a mile away from CF Industries, which was built in 1964. The school has never been affected by an industrial incident.
Ricky Webre, head of the Ascension Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, was invited to speak at Tuesday’s meeting of the board’s Strategic Planning Committee that met before the regular board meeting.
Webre said the risk was low for Donaldsonville Primary for a problem with a spill at CF Industries, which produces ammonia.
“Ammonia has a very high dispersion rate” in the air, Webre said.
It would also be very unusual for all three units at the plant to go out all together, he said.
“Would I let my children attend that school? Yes,” Webre said.
However, he said, he would want to know the protocol that would be followed at the school, in case of an incident.
“Would it be your recommendation that we move this school?” Superintendant Patrice Pujol asked Webre.
“No,” he said.
The School Board also recently sought the opinion of a consultant with Southern Earth Sciences, based in Mobile, Alabama, which said that the primary school in Donaldsonville doesn’t fall within any of the distances listed for initial response isolation
“The school does fall within the distance for protection if low wind conditions exist and the facility falls directly downwind from the location of the spill. Protection may simply be to shelter in place or evacuate as directed by officials,” the consultant, Eric Guarino, concluded.
Board Member Patricia Russo said the safety of children is the priority of every School Board member. But, she said, he’s confident in the two reports from experts that the location of Donaldsonville Primary School doesn’t pose a concern.
“I don’t think I could support a new school,” Russo said
Before Delaney brought up the possibility of relocating Donaldsonville Primary, a list of future needs with rough cost estimates for the Ascension Parish school district was drawn up by board committees. The wish list included:
Three new primary schools, $48 million
One new middle school, $20 million
Classroom additions at Dutchtown Primary and Lowery Middle School, $15 million to $20 million
New high school, $50 million to $55 million
School security needs, $3.5 million
“From the staff’s perspective, we just need direction,” Pujol said.
“We can’t proceed with the (project) list for the (proposed) 2016 bond,” she said, until the questions over Donaldsonville Primary are settled.
“We’re at a standstill,” she said.
The Strategic Committee will look again at the question of whether to renovate or re-locate Donaldsonville Primary at a future meeting.