Recent flooding has complicated the expansion plans of charter schools in East Baton Rouge Parish, but supporters see potential opportunity arising from the destruction.
The flooding that began Aug. 12 closed 12 public schools in the parish as well as a handful of private schools. That in turn set off a scramble for space as those schools quickly relocated.
Two of the 12 flooded public schools are charter schools in north Baton Rouge. Charter schools are public schools run by private organizations via contracts, or charters. The number of charter schools in the parish has grown from just a handful a few years ago to 26 today.
One of the three Baton Rouge schools run by Los Angeles-based Celerity Schools flooded. Celerity Lanier, which operated out of the former Lanier Elementary, quickly relocated its 400 students to vacant space at the organization’s Celerity Crestworth, housed at the former Crestworth Middle School, which did not flood.
New York City-based Democracy Prep wasn’t so lucky. The charter group’s lone Baton Rouge school, located at the former Prescott Middle School, flooded. The school reopened a week later at the Baranco Clark YMCA, 1735 Thomas H. Delpit Drive.
After two feet of water flooded their school last weekend, the faculty of Democracy Prep Bat…
Celerity and Democracy Prep leaders say they plan to return to their school buildings that flooded, though they are not sure how soon.
“We’re working collaboratively with East Baton Rouge Parish — they own the building,” said Craig Knotts, superintendent of Celerity Schools Louisiana.
“Our priority is to reopen in our building, make it clean and safe and welcoming for kids,” said Michelle Gieg, Democracy Prep’s executive director. “We’re not looking at substantial changes. But speed is important.”
Gieg said she’s hoping to return to Prescott in a few weeks but the plan is at first to repair only one of the three buildings on the Prescott campus and fix up the rest later.
“We can function out of one,” she said. “It won’t be an ideal situation.”
Finding space for school was a concern for charter schools before the flooding.
Five other non-flooded charter schools, all launched in the past two years, have been outgrowing their space. Their plans call for them to move in the near future so they can reach their full authorized capacity.
Meanwhile, more charter schools are on the way in the next two years as a handful of big-name charter school management organizations look to set up in Baton Rouge. They are trying to nail down places to hold school.
The flooding, though, has depleted the stock of available school buildings, at least until some flooded schools are repaired.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school system, which had several partially full buildings before the flooding, is now using almost all of its unused space. Its plan is to repair all eight of its schools that flooded, which would again free up some real estate. The other two public schools that flooded are Baker High school and Tanglewood Elementary in Central.
“We’re moving forward as if everything will be rebuilt as it is,” said Adonica Duggan, a spokeswoman for the school system, the second largest in Louisiana.Jefferson Parish school district is the largest.
Repairs to Twin Oaks Elementary have been fast-tracked. It is set to reopen Oct. 3. Plans for the district's seven other flooded schools, however, are still up in the air and waiting for money to do the work. The school system is trying to first settle its flood insurance claim, expected to top out at $10 million, and then will shift its attention to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to seek reimbursement for those costs insurance doesn’t cover.
With initial flood-related damage pegged at $50 million, a number likely to grow substantial…
Duggan said the decision-making process is just beginning, and repair plans may change.
“We’re in the process of hiring a FEMA consultant, and once that person is on board, we can start looking at what those options are,” she said.
Despite the flooding and the displacement of thousands of commercial businesses, the Baton Rouge commercial real estate market still appears to have some supply, according to a recent Advocate survey. At least one charter school group recently considered but passed on space at the Cortana Mall, a representative of a property management organization told The Advocate.
Although high water overwhelmed thousands of Baton Rouge-area businesses during the August f…
New Schools for Baton Rouge, which recruited most of the new and expanding charter schools, is also planning to add to the supply of buildings. In April, the nonprofit, which formed in 2011, announced plans to build as many as five new school campuses.
A prominent nonprofit group that has helped lure several charter schools to Baton Rouge anno…
Chris Meyer, president and CEO of New Schools for Baton Rouge, said two schools are in development. The first one, which is being designed by GraceHebert Architects of Baton Rouge, should break ground later this year and a second one will come shortly after that, Meyer said.
The first one is meant to be an “incubation” space for charter schools just starting out. Meyer said he is talking to UP Elementary, one of three small charter schools housed in the former Glen Oaks Middle School, about locating there. UP founder Meghan Turner said she’s been speaking with Meyer but said her school is still exploring its facility options.
The second school will likely house New Orleans-based Collegiate Academies, which is expected to open a high school in 2017, Meyer said. Collegiate received a charter to start a high school in Baton Rouge in 2013 but has yet to exercise it.
In June, New Schools for Baton Rouge started a new construction company, called NSBR Facilities LLC, to handle the construction. Its two officers are Meyer and Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. NSBR Facilities is in turn teaming up with Commercial Properties Realty Trust, the for-profit real estate arm of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Meyer said. The new company is still raising the money it needs to build all five schools it wants to build, he said.
New Schools for Baton Rouge has in the past tried, without success, to interest the East Baton Rouge Parish school system in teaming up on either leasing or building new buildings for the charter schools New Schools is trying to bring to town.
Meyer said he’s hoping to get those conversations restarted. He acknowledged that he and Superintendent Warren Drake didn’t get off to the best start after Drake took over in the summer of 2015.
“Our bridges are still being repaired,” Meyer said.
Meyer said the School Board’s decision in May to approve charters for two large charter groups, IDEA Public Schools based in Rio Grande Valley, Texas, and Inspire New Orleans Charter Schools, was a welcome sign of renewed openness to charter schools. He said he hopes New Schools can build on those approvals.
The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Wednesday approved a charter school group from t…
New Schools has at least one other prominent charter school group that wants to come to Baton Rouge: Tucson, Arizona-based BASIS Schools. BASIS had planned to apply for a charter earlier this year but opted not to at the last minute. Instead, it is looking to apply in 2017 for a charter with a start date in 2018, Meyer said. BASIS also is looking to New Schools for at least one of its school buildings.
Superintendent Drake has signaled that the recent flooding is likely to spark a top-to-bottom review of public school facilities in Baton Rouge. Drake said last week that school officials will have to carefully consider its rebuilding plans, as well as future projects, specifically pointing to plans to rebuild Park Elementary as well as a new middle school in southeast Baton Rouge.
The school system has three other major construction projects scheduled to start soon: a new Career Academy, the demolition and rebuilding of Broadmoor Elementary, and renovations to Istrouma High School.