BR.mckinleyforum.020618_HS_014 (copy)

The front of McKinley High School as seen on Feb. 6, 2018, before a forum held on campus to discuss construction that is slated for the next decade.

Voters in April 2018 agreed to set aside millions to rebuild University Terrace Elementary and expand nearby McKinley High, but before that can happen the East Baton Rouge Parish school district wants to acquire extra property around the two school campuses.

The acquisitions would involve as many as 11 lots next to University Terrace and up to 20 next to McKinley High. Both schools are close to each other and just south of LSU.

Commercial Realtor George Kurz of Kurz & Hebert updated the School Board on Thursday on where efforts to acquire the needed property stand.

His visit was prompted by the board’s adding language to an item last month that allows for the hiring of an appraiser and a real estate attorney. The added language puts the board in a more central role in future land purchases.

Kurz has helped the school system find land before, including a decade ago to build Woodlawn Elementary and to expand Dufrocq Elementary.

University Terrace and McKinley High are two out of 22 projects listed by name in a construction package that voters agreed to in renewing a 1-cent sales tax on April 28, 2018. Construction of a new University Terrace, estimated at $25.2 million, is set to start as early as the 2020-21 school year. The renovation and expansion of McKinley High, estimated at $35 million, is not set to begin until 2024.

The school district can’t, under state law, pay more for a piece of property than its appraised value. It can legally expropriate property at fair market value, but that’s not the preference, Kurz said.

“What we would rather do is work through a regular process of being able to appraise it, work with the people, help them get relocated and find a solution for their needs,” he said.

For University Terrace, at 575 W. Roosevelt St., Kurz showed the board a map with 11 red dots along Alaska Street, next to the school. Kurz estimated only two of the lots are owner-occupied, while the others are vacant or used as rentals.

“We’ve got one that’s being held together by the grace of God,” he said.

Two of the lots are parking areas owned by LSU, but he said the university is not interested in selling.

“What we’re trying to do is assemble enough to be able to make this work,” Kurz said.

Buying more property next to McKinley High's 18.9-acre site at 800 E. McKinley St. would allow officials to reconfigure the 58-year-old school to provide better transportation, athletic services and improved drainage, Kurz said. But, he said, he’s not sure the board will want to buy all 20 lots he’s identified.

“We have some budget constraints,” he said.

While he’s managed to reach all the owners next to University Terrace, Kurz said, he’s had less luck with those who own lots next to McKinley High.

“Only one person out of all the names you see listed has even responded,” Kurz said.

He said the true owners of some of the lots is uncertain.

“Some of these are vacant lots, some are unoccupied,” he said.

The University Terrace and McKinley projects are interconnected.

University Terrace’s current 63-year-old campus is to demolished and rebuilt large enough to house not only its 380 current students but also those from nearby Buchanan Elementary, which has 370 students.

Once the new University Terrace opens, Buchanan Elementary’s campus at 1222 E. Buchanan St. would be closed and demolished. That property would then be added to that of the adjacent McKinley High School.

School officials are looking to reconfigure McKinley High's campus so it's big enough to add a junior high. The rebuilt University Terrace would serve as its feeder school.


Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.