Woodvale Elementary School broke ground on a new classroom wing Friday, beginning a nearly $5 million construction project that will replace 20 portable classrooms on the Leon Drive campus.

Lafayette Superintendent Donald Aguillard said Woodvale is the first of nine schools getting a facelift to alleviate the plague of portable buildings that affects many of Lafayette’s schools.

To begin resolving the problem, the school board chose to focus primarily on elementary schools with six or more portable buildings, he said. Each building typically houses two classrooms.

The schools are Broadmoor Elementary, Evangeline Elementary, Katharine Drexel Elementary, Corporal Michael Middlebrook Elementary, Ridge Elementary and Woodvale Elementary, along with several middle schools, including Acadian Middle School, Edgar Martin Middle School and L.J. Alleman Middle School, Aguillard said.

Evangeline Elementary and Acadian Middle School are neighbors and a single project will benefit both schools, with most of the build focused on Evangeline Elementary, he said.

Groundbreaking ceremonies are scheduled for the Evangeline-Acadian project on May 9 and the Ridge Elementary project on May 10. Aguillard said all the addition projects are expected to break ground within the next six months.

Altogether the new construction will replace roughly 150 portable classrooms, Aguillard said.

The school system expects to host a ribbon-cutting at the new Woodvale wing in August 2020. The project will cost about $6 million total, with $5 million dedicated to the building’s construction, he said.

Justin Centanni, school board president, said improving the portable classroom situation is a benefit to schools but also development in Lafayette as a whole. He recalled a tour of the city with a business executive considering relocating to Lafayette, and the man was not impressed with the presence of the portable classrooms, he said.

“I’m very much looking forward to August 2020 when we can stop calling these temporaries and we can refer to them as portable buildings because we’re going to port them right out of here,” Centanni said.

Woodvale Elementary will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020, and since its founding the population of the school has nearly doubled, Aguillard said. The school was built to serve a maximum student population of around 360, but the school is now pushing 700 students and has been for years, he said.

The growth is putting a strain on classroom facilities, as evidenced by the school’s 10 portable classroom buildings, but also the core facilities, such as bathrooms, the cafeteria and the library, Aguillard said.

“There needs to be an understanding by the citizens of Lafayette that we’re taking schools that were originally designed for 350 to 400 students and now we’re asking them to accommodate 700 or more students. We’ve got to address the core service areas on those campuses as quickly as possible,” Aguillard said.

Architect Bob Barras said the new building will be two stories to preserve as much space as possible on the neighborhood-locked campus. The elementary campus sits on 9.5 acres, when most elementary schools usually have at least 10 or more acres, he said.

The building will feature 20 new classrooms, a teacher’s lounge and teacher workspaces, as well as bathrooms, mechanical equipment rooms and a lobby. It will also have an automatic fire sprinkler system, Barras said.

The building will be standalone from the other campus buildings, excepting an enclosed corridor that will connect to the current third grade building and will allow students easy access to the school’s core areas, such as the library and cafeteria, he said.

The building’s utilities will also be standalone, with the water, electrical and other utility hookups coming from connections along Doucet Road. This will allow the contractors to avoid disrupting the main building’s services, Barras said.

Rudick Company project manager Hunter McKay said his team has already completed the demolition portion, removing several trees and a slab basketball court, and will start digging footings for the foundation Monday.

The slab construction will take about a month, and the team estimates they’ll have the concrete masonry blocks comprising most of the building’s structure going up by the end of July, McKay said.

The goal is to have the building enclosed between September and November, during the best construction weather months, Barras said.

Woodvale principal Monique Vidos said the project is something she’s wanted for a long time. The portable classrooms can be disruptive when there’s bad weather and the students are forced to leave their classrooms to shelter in the main building, she said.

The portable classrooms are also smaller than the main building classrooms and the students in the temporary buildings are separated from their grade-level peers, Vidos said.

The need is there, she said.

“I think it’s going to be so special for our students because those that unfortunately do have to have their education in a portable building are at a disadvantage, I feel, to the ones that are in the main building,” Vidos said. “I think this is going to be such a benefit to our students and their education.”

Once the portable classrooms are replaced, the school hopes to look at opportunities to increase space in the cafeteria and administrative wing, she said. For now, the wing addition is a positive sign for the future of the school and the students’ continued education.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Vidos said.

Follow Katie Gagliano on Twitter, @katie_gagliano.