As their classmates wind down their school year, several students at Belaire High School in Baton Rouge are planning a final three-week sprint to redesign a public park three blocks from the school.

And unlike the average school project, they have up to $200,000 to work with.

“I’m anxious to see what they are going to come up with,” said Reed Richard, assistant superintendent of planning for BREC. “They are going to follow the same process as we do.”

That process began Tuesday with a community forum that attracted about 200 people, primarily from the surrounding neighborhoods. In addition to speaking, most of the audience filled out an online survey asking what they’d like to see at Tams Drive Park.

“This is very impressive," Richard said, looking at the crowd in the theater at the high school. “In fact, this is a much bigger turnout than we normally have.”

Richard, who has been with the parish recreation agency for the past 14 years, said his office was contacted by Belaire High earlier this year. He said it’s the first time he recalls working with students to redesign any of the agency’s 181 parks.

The size of the proposed budget is meant to be not too little, he said, but not too much: “The $200,000 I gave them gives them a chance to be a little creative, but it also give them some constraints.”

Principal Angell Powell-Jones thanked BREC for the chance to partner with the school.

“It will give our students something that they can say they built and something they can say they did to improve their neighborhood,” Powell-Jones said. “It will be a great legacy for all of the students involved.”

The students have limited time to weave together their ideas with what they heard Tuesday. They must present their proposed redesign to BREC on May 23.

The park, which dates to 1975, is 6 acres of largely green space and trees. Its amenities include an indoor basketball court, a playground, and outdoor baseball and soccer fields.

The overarching idea is turn Tams Drive Park into a “renewable energy park.” That’s in keeping with the theme of a newly formed magnet program at Belaire High with a science and engineering focus. The students leading the park redesign participate in that program.


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“There will be a solar energy charging station while you’re watching your kids or just wasting your day away,” said senior Hassan Henderson, 18.

Another student suggested having a walking trail with information about renewable energy spaced along the walk.

Most of the ideas discussed Tuesday were more specific to parks.

Henderson said the basketball court is inadequate.

“It’s too small,” he said.

He also said there’s a shortage of places to sit amid shade in the park.

“Will the park be pet friendly?” one woman in the audience asked. She was assured it would be.

“What dog parks have are the trash cans for the waste for the dogs,” answered senior Alba Vanegas, 18. “And once a week, we’ll go over there and dispose of it properly.”

Another audience member was concerned the improvements would quickly fall into disrepair and be covered in graffiti. But Vanegas said the high school plans to have students complete community service hours by keeping up the park.

Powell-Jones had a suggestion: splash pads. She said her 3-year-old grandchild loves them.

Another audience member said Tams Drive Park needs better spaces to hold birthday parties for children. Vanegas agreed, saying the park is not well suited for that now: “The only pavilion has holes in it, so when it rains you get poured on.”

Several students said they almost never use the park now but think they would if it were improved.

“There a lot of empty spaces that are not used at all, and what’s used is not well used,” said Henderson.

They said they drive long distances to patronize better parks.


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“Let’s be honest. Who likes to go out there just to hang out there?” junior Devonte Chews, 18, asked the audience. No hands went up.

Some speakers later said they do use the park.

Jan Shelay York said she often brings her young cousins there to play but said the water fountains are no good so she has to bring her own water; she was assured the redesigned park would have drinking water.


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Junior Chris Pavon, 16, said he’s played soccer in the park for years, but the boundaries of the field are faded and there’s a wet ditch the soccer ball routinely lands in.

Richard said he’s glad the students have taken an interest the 44-year-old park.

“Even if we weren’t engaging the school on this, the park is in need an improvement overall,” he said.


Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.