T.M. Landry College Prep's moved from its home in Breaux Bridge this week with only a few days of notice to the building's owner, Neal Hebert, who said the school's lease was to expire in November 2020.
Hebert said school officials notified him 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.
The school's chairman, Greg Davis, said the move to a former skating rink in the 3400 block of Moss Street in Lafayette was necessary because the State Fire Marshal's Office required expensive improvements to the building in Breaux Bridge. The improvements would have cost $40,000 at a minimum, Davis said.
Davis said the school agreed to complete the improvements by the end of February, but then determined it could not afford to do so.
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“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.”
Hebert said the Fire Marshal's Office worked out an agreement with T.M. Landry last July that would have saved a substantial amount of money, but that the school made no progress.
“There was absolutely no work done to try to meet fire safety code,” Hebert said.
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A query to the Fire Marshal's Office was pending on Thursday afternoon.
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 is also investigating the allegations.
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Davis said he hopes the Pastorek investigation report will be completed soon, although he is not certain because he is remaining at arm’s length from it.
After The New York Times story was published, school founders Michael and Tracy Landry resigned from the board, while Davis and former BESE member Linda Johnson joined the board. The Landrys remain with the school, Davis said. Enrollment, he said, dropped from 110 to 75 after the article was published.
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 who attend the prep school. The New York Times story, he said, "does not reflect our experiences at the school."
Hebert, who said the lease called for the tenant to pay for all building improvements, declined to comment on whether he was considering legal action against the school. 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.
The owners of the school’s new home in Lafayette are paying for most of the fire code-related improvements in that building, Davis said. The building is owned by Hillside Plaza LLC, according to property records. A Hillside Plaza officer, Terry Delhomme, did not return a call Thursday.
T.M. Landry previously served notice it would vacate the Breaux Bridge building last summer, when it planned to move into the Northgate Mall. Davis said those plans were abandoned because of the cost of mold remediation.
“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.”
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