A Jefferson Parish charter school set to open its doors this fall will operate on the east bank rather than in Waggaman after talks to lease the former Norbert Rillieux Elementary School stalled over price.
The all-boys Smothers Academy will open instead at the former Deckbar School, 2012 Jefferson Highway.
The Jefferson Parish School Board on Thursday approved the three-year lease but stopped short of setting the monthly rent the school must pay. Board members simply agreed that the price would reflect “fair market value,” to be determined by a real estate appraiser.
Smothers’ founder, Damon Smothers, said he is confident the price won’t be prohibitive and his school will be able to open as scheduled Aug. 22.
“We just want to go in a situation where we are using the best resources to educate the children first instead of just paying rent,” said Smothers, who hopes eventually to buy a permanent site for the school.
The state in December granted Smothers a Type 2 charter, meaning the school will accept students from anywhere in Louisiana up to a certain number.
When talks about opening the academy at the Rillieux Elementary site began, Jefferson school district officials said they would need a total of $4 million in rent and facility improvements. Smothers said his school could afford only $2 million over five years, an offer that was rejected by the school district.
Smothers asked for another campus and was offered the old Deckbar School.
A draft of the lease up for consideration Thursday said Smothers would pay a monthly rent of $8,333. But School Board member Cedric Floyd balked, saying the site’s previous tenant — Milestone Academy, another charter operator — paid more than $20,000 in monthly rent when it leased the property for the 2014-15 academic year.
Fellow board member Mark Morgan said Milestone’s arrangement was for a shorter term than Smothers’ and that such deals tend to be pricier. But the board opted to change the rent amount to “fair market value,” the price at which school districts are required by law to make vacant facilities available to approved charters.
Smothers will start as K-6 but plans to expand eventually to K-12.
The Deckbar building has proved popular for Jefferson schools in need of short-term space. In addition to hosting Milestone, it also was a temporary home to the Kenner Discovery Health Sciences Academy and the Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy.
The building was once slated to be a welcome center for students who recently immigrated to Jefferson Parish. That center is now based at the Paul E. Emenes Special Services building in Elmwood.