Jefferson Terrace lot.jpg

A 20 acre lot near Azork Avenue, Tuesday, October 20, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La. The East Baton Rouge Parish school system is debating the future at a community meeting being held nearby Tuesday at Jefferson Terrace Elementary School. School system officials are seeking input from nearby residents before committing to new construction there or doing something else with the property.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board agreed Thursday to begin looking for an architect to build a new school on 20 acres of vacant property near Jefferson Terrace Elementary, but school leaders have yet to settle on what kind of school the architect should design.

Superintendent Warren Drake told the board that the process of finding an architect will take about six weeks. That’s enough time to settle on whether to build a middle school, a pre-K-to-12 magnet school — the original options — or switch to something else, perhaps a K-8 school, he said.

“We haven’t finalized the exact (grade) configuration for that school but we should in the next couple of weeks,” Drake said.

Board member David Tatman, who represents the Jefferson Terrace and Inniswold Estates subdivisions, said the process may take longer than a couple of weeks if the plans change too much, but not much longer. He said he personally favors sticking with a pre-K-12 school but he recognizes that residents of the area appear to disagree.

“At the community meeting, the overwhelming preference was for a K-8 school,” Tatman said.

Residents weigh in on EBR school system plans for 20 vacant acres in Jefferson Terrace

Tatman was referring to an Oct. 10 public forum at the elementary school that attracted more than 100 people. Tatman said the main concern he heard were worries about increased traffic that could come with adding high school grades, but he said there may be solutions to minimize such problems.

Drake said he is leaning toward a K-8 school, but perhaps leaving the door open to add high school grades later.

The 20 acres are behind the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana offices off Bluebonnet Boulevard and about three blocks from the elementary school at 9902 Cal Road. Both the Cal Road property and the 20 acres were donated to the school system decades ago when the subdivision was built, but only the elementary school was constructed. That school opened in 1958 and currently educates about 450 students from preschool to fifth grade.

In 2008, voters across East Baton Rouge Parish gave their approval to building a new school on the property, either a middle school or a pre-K to 12 magnet school. They did so as part of the renewal of a 1-cent sales tax that called for a long list of new construction, including renovating and expanding Baton Rouge Magnet High and rebuilding Lee High. Building on the property described as “Jefferson Home Site” was the last project on that list, and $32.9 million was set aside.

This area of Baton Rouge could see lots of public school construction in next decade

Tatman said he said he thinks the board will have to vote on the ultimate grade configuration given that the language voters approved in 2008 offered two options for the school. And if the school system wants something other than a middle school or a pre-K-to-12 magnet school, then Tatman’s opinion is that the change would have to be first approved by a citizen’s group known as the Oversight Committee, which was part of the 2008 tax renewal.

Another thing to be decided is what to do with Jefferson Terrace Elementary School if a new school is built three blocks away. Tatman said he’s open to just closing that school and moving its students to the new school, but that call has yet to be made.

School officials recently concluded the elementary has about $2.5 million worth of deferred maintenance and rated it in “fair/poor” condition.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.