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The East Baton Rouge Parish school system is looking to spend up to $100 million to build as many as three new schools south of Interstate 10, but it appears increasingly unlikely that any of them will be built within the boundaries of the proposed new City of St. George.

“I don’t think it’s prudent for us to go purchase property inside the City of St. George,” School Superintendent Warren Drake said in an interview about plans in the works for new schools.

Voters living in this heretofore unincorporated area voted on Oct. 12 to go forward with the new city. Supporters hope to use their success at the polls to persuade first the legislature and then voters to create a companion St. George school district. If successful, it would be the fourth independent school district in the parish, following Baker, Central and Zachary.

If the school system builds new schools in St. George, they could quickly become the property of the new companion school district, which would become a competitor with what’s left of the parish school system. Those schools would join the six schools that St. George is already set to inherit, one of which, the rebuilt Jefferson Terrace elementary set to open in August, will be brand new.

School Board President Mike Gaudet, however, said he’s not so worried about where the new schools in the planning stages end up being built.

He noted that a new school district for St. George is likely to take years to come into being, if it happens at all. And, he said, the school district’s boundaries may well be different than those of the new city, so it’s hard to figure out where to locate a school to avoid it being part of a new St. George school district.

But there’s a bigger issue with trying to build a new school within the boundaries of St. George.

“Most of the good land in that area has already been taken,” Gaudet said, adding that school officials “waited too long” to move on getting the schools built.

School Board member Connie Bernard, who represents much of the area, has long advocated for more schools built in her district. Despite the recent incorporation vote, she said, there’s still a good argument for putting the schools inside the portion of St. George south of I-10.

The area is among the fastest growing in the parish and an adequate number of schools were never built to serve them, she said. The school system last opened a new neighborhood school south of I-10 in 1969,  when the ribbon was cut for Wildwood Elementary.

“(The schools) need to be where the children are,” she said. “I’ve said that all along. I think it’s a mistake not to.”

Building new schools there “sends a signal that we care about our community and we care about our kids,” she added.

Bernard, though, agreed with Gaudet that finding suitable land in the St. George area has been difficult.

The $100 million for the new schools in the southern part of the parish is part of $362 million worth of school construction that will occur between now and 2029. Parish voters in April 2018 approved this “Tax Plan” when they renewed a 1-cent sales tax earmarked for public education.

A new $35 million elementary school in south Baton Rouge is up first, starting construction during the 2020-21 school year. It would be followed by the construction of a $45 million middle/high school, perhaps built as separate schools depending on demand, starting in the 2024-25 school year.

The Tax Plan was intentionally vague about where the south Baton Rouge schools would be built, but it set aside another $10 million to buy the land for the schools. Last year, the school system hired Kurz & Hebert, a local real estate agency, to help it scout out real estate for those schools as well as others in the Tax Plan.

As that plan was being developed in late 2017 and early 2018, Drake suggested the new south Baton Rouge schools could be placed anywhere from the south gates of LSU to the Ascension Parish line. More recently, the superintendent has tended to mention properties closer to LSU.

During a luncheon talk on Aug. 23 at the Main Library, Drake was asked whether the system would build the new south Baton Rouge schools in St. George.

“The (properties) we have cited for potential are not in that area right now,” he responded.

Gaudet said he’s planning a board workshop soon to discuss where best to build these new schools.

He noted that two newly constructed charter schools located near Gardere — IDEA Innovation and South Baton Rouge Charter Academy — have quickly attracted students.

Putting a new school on the property long occupied Arlington Preparatory Academy, once talked up by Drake as a prime option, however, looks doubtful. Gaudet has raised questions about the small size of the property — it’s just five acres — and its limited access in and out, a potential problem during an emergency.

“I think it’s highly unlikely we’d ever put anything there,” Gaudet said.

Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.