Plans to renovate Istrouma High School and reopen the north Baton Rouge institution in time for the start of the 2017-18 school year were greenlighted Thursday night by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.
The vote, which prompted little discussion, sets the stage for public bidding in July and the start of construction in August. That will leave just shy of a year to refurbish the building by August 2017. The campus has sat empty since May 2014. Istrouma is nearly a century old and moved into its current home at 3730 Winbourne Ave. in 1951.
The school system is dedicating as much as $21.4 million to fixing up the building, which is more than double initial renovation estimates developed last summer. The money comes from a 1-cent sales tax, first approved by voters in 1998, which funds most school construction.
Bidders will be asked to specify, among other things, the cost of rewiring, replacing plumbing and outfitting the old school with a new air-conditioning and heating system. Plans also call for new bus lanes, more parking, demolition of a few ancillary buildings, and converting an annex to a middle school, as well as improvements to baseball, soccer and track facilities.
Superintendent Warren Drake, who persuaded the state in January to return control of Istrouma to the school system, has big plans for the high school. He has identified four focus areas for job training: STEM, skilled crafts, hospitality and tourism, and manufacturing. The skilled crafts include carpentry, mechanical drafting and pipe fitting.
The board also on Thursday approved soliciting proposals from firms to look at the demographics of where students live and where they are going to school in East Baton Rouge Parish to aid with school construction plans. This would be the first update of this kind of information in a decade.
The last student demographic study was conducted in preparation for the last successful renewal of the 1-cent sales tax in 2008. The new study would be done as the school system prepares to seek a renewal of that tax in 2018.
Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the school system, said the last demographic study cost about $75,000 and the new one will be similar in scope. He said he’s hoping the cost this time will be similar as well, noting that the new study will not include Central, which broke away to form its own school district soon after the last demographic study was done.
Also on Thursday, the School Board agreed to renew for another decade the charter for an 18-year-old Baton Rouge middle school.
CSAL’s operating contract, which was set to expire June 30, will continue 10 more years through 2026. CSAL, which stands for Community School for Apprenticeship Learning, opened in 1997.
Charter schools are public schools run independently of the school system by private organizations via charter, or contracts.
CSAL has steadily improved academically in recent years from a D to a B letter grade.
The School Board also settled Thursday on EBR Virtual Academy as the name for a new in-house virtual school that it is opening this fall. A naming committee held a public meeting on April 26 and came up with three similar names. Drake initially settled on East Baton Rouge Virtual High School as his favorite, but changed to a less grade-specific name after School Board President Barbara Freiberg worried that calling it a high school would be too limiting if the school decided later to expand into the lower grades.