A bus full of East Baton Rouge Parish School Board members and administrators unloaded amid a swirl of dust Thursday for a tour of the under-construction Park Elementary.

The two-story, 75,000-square-foot facility has been taking shape over the past six months. School administrators say it's a 21st-century design approach that they plan to use for future school construction projects.

Several big puddles were still visible on Thursday, a sign of the steady rains that have proved a challenge for the general contractor, Percy J. Matherne Contractors of Baton Rouge.

The rain was a factor in pushing the projected "substantial completion" for the project back by almost a month, to mid-July, which is close to when the school is supposed to open for students in early August.

Construction is about three-fifths of the way to completion.

“We’ve had more rain (than anticipated),” said architect Joe Saffiotti, of Coleman Partners, who added that the delays could have been worse. “This contractor has done more active work to mitigate the rain than we’ve seen before.”


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The new school is arising from vacant land in the rear of the 27-acre property. Building the school there allowed the old, one-story school, built in 1955, that it is replacing to continue operating throughout construction.

The new school will no longer face Fuqua Street, but will instead stare out at the corner of Bogan Walk and North 28th Street.

The new school is nearly twice the square footage of its predecessor but is being built for 450 students, about 100 fewer than the original Park’s maximum capacity.

Park Elementary currently is educating even fewer students, with an enrollment of 254. That's 119 fewer than were enrolled there five years ago. The neighborhood elementary school has an overall letter grade of an F, though it earned a B on its last state report card for academic growth.

Declining enrollment almost sidelined the $21.7 million project, approved by voters in 2008, but a last-minute push by school supporters kept it alive.

The fight over future of Park Elementary microcosm of larger Baton Rouge public school debates

To give the new school something different, designers have created a “21st century school,” an elementary counterpart to the 2016 rebuilding of Lee High.

It’s a construction style school officials say they plan to use on future construction, including to the soon-to-start reconstruction and expansion of Jefferson Terrace elementary.

“The way kids learn now, the ways things are taught, the building has to facilitate that,” said Marcus Williams, program director with CSRS/Tillage Construction, the private partnership that oversees most school construction in Baton Rouge.

The modern approach is not only cosmetic, it’s functional, meant to foster educational collaboration all over the school.

For instance, each of the seven grade levels, from prekindergarten to fifth grade, are set up as their own “school house.” Each cluster consists of three classrooms clustered around a “collaborative space” that resembles a futuristic living room.


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The designers are setting up outdoor areas to serve as their own classroom. For instance, rainfall will collect in a cistern and pour into a river that can used for lessons in earth science.

“Teachers can take the kids out and use that as an opportunity to change their routine, get them excited, redirected and focused,” Saffioti said.

Superintendent Warren Drake said he was struck during the tour by the spaciousness and the abundance of natural light in the under-construction building. And he thinks the school-within-a-school design should pay dividends down the road.

“This is game-changer for giving students opportunities in the classroom,” Drake said.


Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.