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The Freyhan School, shown April 25, 2019, was the first public school built in West Feliciana and was named after benefactor Julius Freyhan. Plans are underway to restore he building.

ST. FRANCISVILLE — Town residents could soon see the old Julius Freyhan High School building enclosed in a protective bubble as workers remove asbestos and lead materials as the first step in restoring the 112-year-old building.

The West Feliciana Parish School Board, which owns the former school, on Tuesday approved an $88,700 bid from Gill Industries Ltd. for the abatement work. The bid is subject to approval from the state Office of Facility Planning and Control, because state funds were appropriated for the building’s restoration.

The contract price is about $5,000 above the amount the state Legislature appropriated for the abatement work, but the Julius Freyhan Foundation will make up the difference.

Freyhan, a wealthy Jewish immigrant who was active in post-Civil War community life, died in 1904 and left $8,000 to help build St. Francisville’s first public school. The school opened in 1905, burned in 1907 and was quickly rebuilt in the same style on the site.

The foundation is spearheading an effort to restore the building for use as a community center and museum of early education and early Jewish community involvement.

The organization has led in the restoration of the nearby Temple Sinai building, which served as a synagogue and later a Presbyterian church.

Ryan Faulk, of Holly and Smith, Architects, led a presentation on plans for future work on the building, which will include an adjacent structure for entrances to the building that meet current accessibility codes.

The restoration will give the community room for meetings, an art gallery and museum exhibits.

On another matter, board member Sarah Wilson-Rogers asked her colleagues to consider increasing their salaries from $350 per month to $550. Because of the wording of the agenda item, the board was unable to take action on her request Tuesday.

Wilson-Rogers said she wants to vote at the next meeting on whether to move forward by calling a public hearing on the question. Attorney Bob Hammonds said a two-thirds vote of the board is needed to raise the pay.

In 1992, board members cut their salaries by $200 per month during hard financial times, and the pay has remained at $350 per month for 28 years, she said, adding that she would want the increase to become effective next July 1 because the increase was not included in the current budget.

The increase would raise members’ salaries to that of neighboring East Feliciana Parish. The West Feliciana board has seven members, while East Feliciana has 12.

Board member Scotty Owens said he would have a “struggle” voting to increase board members’ pay when he sees teachers posting pleas on social media for donations for classroom projects.

He also noted that the community had voted in 2019 for a $52.6 million school construction bond issue that will increase property taxes.

Regarding the bond issue, the board learned that the final $22.6 million of the authorized issue recently sold at an interest rate of 3.14 percent. But the board also picked up an extra $2,605,000 in “bond premium funds” that can be used for construction projects.

The board also recognized three Teachers of the Year for 2020:

  • Taylor Coye, Bains Elementary School. Principal Jodi Lemoine said a teacher’s strength is measure in the areas of curriculum, instruction and assessment, and Coye is at the “master’s level in all three.”
  • Bridget Bush, West Feliciana Middle School. Principal Mark Lester described her a “the consummate professional,” “tough but fair” and “always willing to jump in and help.”
  • David McMillan, West Feliciana High School. A former Naval Junior ROTC instructor, McMillan now teaches computer science. Secondary Supervisor Abby Cochran said McMillan was critical in getting the school’s virtual learning program up and running when the pandemic-imposed school shutdown occurred last spring. “He’s one of the most interesting teachers I’ve ever dealt with,” Cochran said in describing McMillan’s other school involvement.