Jefferson Terrace Elementary and its faculty are getting ready to vacate the place where they have educated Baton Rouge public schoolchildren for decades and move nearby into a new, larger, radically different home.

Jefferson Terrace’s 9902 Cal Road campus, which opened in 1958, is squeezed into seven acres. The new home three blocks away is a two-story, $32.9 million building, to be called Jefferson Terrace Academy, that stretches out over 20 acres.

The move is set for mid-June, once general contractor Cangelosi Ward reaches “substantial” completion — in time for the start of the new school year in August.

At 125,000 square feet, the new school is triple the size of its predecessor. Enrollment, currently about 460 students, will increase over time to an estimated 730 students by 2022. Most of that growth will come by adding middle school grades, making it a pre-K through eighth grade school.

Construction began almost a year ago. Previously this long, rectangular plot of land, sandwiched between Azrok and Dwyerwood avenues, sat vacant for 49 years.

Once the move is complete, the school system plans to tear down the old campus.

The new school is the latest example in Baton Rouge of a design style known as “21st Century schools.” It follows on the heels of Lee High School, which was demolished and rebuilt in 2016, and Park Elementary, which was demolished and rebuilt last year. Grace Hebert Curtis Architects of Baton Rouge designed Jefferson Terrace in collaboration with Omaha-based DLR Groups. The two firms also collaborated on Lee High.

Marcus Williams, program director for CSRS/Tillage Program Management — the private partnership which oversees most school construction in Baton Rouge, has championed the design approach.

Williams gave a tour this week of the under-construction Jefferson Terrace Academy. The new facility is all open spaces and glass windows. Even the library — these days it's called the media center — is without doors or walls. Powerful Wi-Fi will allow students to work from just about anywhere.

Williams led the tour through a series of "collaborative spaces,” which will remain open or removable partitions can be used to divide rooms. Instead of traditional classrooms, the new school has “learning pods”: blocks of classrooms each clustered around a common space and restrooms.

Unlikely places to learn abound. Hallways are extra wide; they too are also potential mini-classrooms. Small nooks are cut into walls for young kids to crawl into and read or study. Even the staircase is not merely functional; it’s called a “learning staircase.”

“Every space is able to be used for learning,” Williams said.

About $1 million has been set aside to buy furniture.

“We have a very robust furniture package, probably the most advanced that we’ve ever done in a school,” Williams said.

Students won’t be limited to traditional desks. In their place will be everything from beanbags to lounging chairs.

“It will give them a variety of ways to sit,” he said. “Studies show that kids prefer a variety.”

Still to be decided is the attendance zone for the new pre-K through eighth grade school. A proposed zone is set to be voted on by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board when it meets in March.

The proposed zone is slightly larger than the current zone for Jefferson Terrace elementary. It would add some students from neighboring Westminster Elementary. Current Westminster students would have the option of staying or moving to the new school.

The proposed zone would remain the same for middle school grades. The new zone would take in students currently zoned for Westdale and Woodlawn middle schools. These student would come in one grade per year, starting with sixth grade the first year.

School system leaders have posted a parent survey online seeking feedback. On Thursday, they also held a community meeting at the elementary school. An audience of 50 heard a short presentation on the new school under construction down the street.

“I have a daughter at home,” said Principal Zane Whittington. “I’m super excited to have her go here.”

Whittington talked up all the new school will have to offer, including athletics — “I just found out today we’re going to have outdoor basketball” — as well as a “maker space,” a robotics area and spaces for digital art, traditional art, choir and band.

Kesa Jones, a mother of two children at Jefferson Terrace, said she liked what she heard.

“(My kids) like art, they like to sing, they like to dance,” she said. “They don’t really have a chance to do that here.”

And middle school grades means her kids can stay at the same school longer, she said.

According to the state's school accountability system, Jefferson Terrace improved its school performance score by 6.7 points last year. It has a D letter grade overall, but a B for its academic growth.

Associate Superintendent Adam Smith described the new school as "amazing" and said he expects educators will travel from around the country to visit. He promised parents that it wouldn't go to waste.

“We don’t want 19th century learning to happen in a 21st century building,” Smith said.

On Thursday afternoon, teachers from the school sat with a consultant to sort that out. Whittington said the new school means new opportunities, but also new challenges: “We’re trying to make sure that the teachers can feel confident in the very necessary skills they’ll need to have."


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