The new location of T.M.Landry College Prep is pictured Thursday, February 28, 2019, on Moss Street in Lafayette, La.

T.M. Landry College Prep will not be allowed to occupy its new location in Lafayette until it submits and receives approval for fire plans from the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the fire marshal announced Thursday evening.

After operating for more than a year without approved fire plans at its Breaux Bridge location, the school suddenly moved Thursday morning to a former skating rink in the 3400 block of Moss Street without telling the Marshal’s Office, according to office officials.

Marshal’s Office deputies determined the new location, considered a storage space, must be reclassified as an educational facility, Marshal’s Office spokeswoman Ashley Rodrigue said. The reclassification necessitates new fire safety plans, she said.

“If you want to change occupancy from storage to educational, there are different fire dangers that have to be addressed,” Rodrigue said.

The Marshal’s Office never received approval for plans at the school’s last location, 1800 Rees St. in Breaux Bridge, where the school moved in late 2017, according to Rodrigue. School officials told the Marshal’s Office in July — a little more than half a year after moving to Breaux Bridge — that they planned to move to the Northgate Mall in Lafayette, according a timeline provided by the Marshal’s Office.

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Fire plans were submitted and approved for the Northgate location, but the school never moved. The Northgate Mall manager, Lisa Champagne, told The Advocate she never heard from school officials after a building permit was posted on the site in September.

But school officials continued telling the Marshal’s Office they planned to move to Northgate as late as Nov. 26, according to the timeline.

“They were allowed multiple emergency contingencies because they had multiple efforts to move,” Rodrigue said.

The school’s chairman, Greg Davis, said the plans to move to the Northgate Mall were abandoned because of the cost of mold remediation. He said the move to the former skating rink was necessary because the minimum cost of meeting fire codes was $40,000. Davis said the school agreed to complete the improvements by the end of February but then determined it could not afford to do so.

“We do not have any money in a reserve account for improvements,” Davis said. “Out of respect for the understanding we had with the fire marshal, we agreed to just go ahead and move because we knew we would not be able to do the improvements.”

The Marshal’s Office on Feb. 4 asked the school to submit a fire plan for the Breaux Bridge building or a timeline for moving to a new location within four days, according to the office's timeline. The school on Feb. 8 informed the Marshal’s Office of potential plans to move to the former skating rink.

The Marshal’s Office on Feb. 22 again requested a timeline for moving or plans for the existing building, and then learned the school was proceeding with the move Thursday, as the media reported that it was happening, according to the timeline.

T.M. Landry gained national notoriety last year when The New York Times reported allegations that the school — whose diplomas are not recognized by Louisiana education authorities — falsified transcripts to get students into prestigious colleges. Some students also reported physical abuse.

The allegations primarily focus on Michael Landry, who co-founded the school with his wife, Tracy Landry. Michael Landry pleaded guilty in 2013 to simple battery after a student accused him of physical abuse.

The school hired a private investigative firm to conduct an internal investigation of the latest allegations, Davis said. Paul Pastorek, a former Louisiana superintendent of education, is leading the investigation, which Davis said he hopes will be coming out soon and will be released to the public. Louisiana State Police are also investigating the allegations.

After The Times story was published, the Landrys resigned from the board, while Davis and former state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Linda Johnson joined the T.M. Landry board. The Landrys remain with the school, Davis said. Enrollment, he said, dropped from 110 to 75 after the article was published.

Michael Landry, who was at the new Lafayette location on Thursday, declined comment.

“The parents that remain, including me as a grandparent, want our children to be taught by Tracy, Mike and their team,” said Davis, who has two grandchildren attend the prep school. The Times story, he said, “does not reflect our experiences at the school.”

Davis said the owner of the Moss Street location agreed to pay for most of the needed fire safety improvements. A representative of the ownership group, Hamilton Davis, said the group negotiated its tenant improvement contribution without knowing the total cost of the improvements.

“We didn’t look at any specific quote. We negotiated based on what allowance we were willing to give them for their improvements,” Hamilton Davis said.

The owner of the Breaux Bridge building, Neal Hebert, said the school’s lease was to expire in November 2020.

Hebert said school officials notified him of the move last weekend, just one month after he agreed to reduce the rent by about 40 percent. The school refused to negotiate a lease termination, Hebert said.

“I proposed that, and they told me that wasn’t going to happen. They just packed up and moved out,” Hebert said.

Hebert, who said the lease called for the tenant to pay for all building improvements, declined comment on whether he was considering legal action against the school. Greg Davis said he was not sure if the school could be held liable, noting that the fire marshal’s requirements were not expected. He said he did not know if the lease required the school to make the improvements.

“For the past year, they have been looking for an excuse to get out of the building,” Hebert said. “They have not been really forthcoming in what their intentions have been.”

Advocate staff writer Claire Taylor contributed to this report.

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