If you build it they will come, so the saying goes. That idea will be put to the test over the next decade in south Baton Rouge, where two schools are being built, one is about to be designed and as many as seven more are in the planning stages.
That's quite a turn of events for an area with few public schools compared to the rest of East Baton Rouge Parish.
Of the seven new schools under consideration for south Baton Rouge, three would be new. The initial proposal is to build a new elementary, a middle and a high school, but it’s unclear where; land would have to be acquired.
The other four new schools would involve tearing down and rebuilding existing facilities, though not necessarily as is. Three of those four projects would produce schools substantially different from what’s there now.
The injection of new public school buildings in the area is contingent largely on the renewal of a 1-cent sales tax that likely will to head to voters April 29. About half of the revenue from that tax goes to school construction.
The School Board on Tuesday was presented a list of proposed “Tax Plan” projects throughout the parish. It’s the second stab at a list by an in-house committee that began meeting months ago.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school system is putting together a “wish list” for school const…
The first list, released Sept. 14, was largely based on ideas solicited from school principals. The latest list was informed by input from the public during three forums held in late September and early October.
Another round of forums, all starting at 6:30 p.m., is scheduled to solicit more input:
- Tuesday: Mayfair Lab School, 9880 Hyacinth Ave.
- Thursday: Istrouma High School, 3730 Winbourne Ave.
- Nov. 9: Lee High School, 1105 Lee Drive.
The second list is a bit smaller than the first version but needs to get smaller yet.
“We’re going to have to pare that list down pretty significantly,” said Superintendent Warren Drake.
The newest list calls for spending $530 million at 30 schools, plus potentially more on proposed work at 15 other schools where the cost of work has yet to be estimated. Of those projects, 10 are new or rebuilt schools.
Yet only $417 million is expected to be raised for school construction via the 1-cent sale tax over the next decade. So at least $113 million worth of proposed work will have to be cut.
Roughly half the proposed spending so far is slated for south Baton Rouge. It’s the home to some of the fastest-growing areas of the parish, yet public school construction there largely stopped in the mid-'70s.
Private schools have largely filled that void. At least six private schools have opened south of Interstate 10 since 1980. Two of the older private schools that were already operating, St. Aloysius and St. George Catholic elementary schools, have grown over time and now educate more than 1,000 students each.
Charter schools — public schools run privately via charters, or contracts — have also been finding homes in south Baton Rouge.
South Baton Rouge Charter Academy opened along Burbank Drive in 2014 and currently has about 600 students in grades kindergarten to eight. Thrive Academy, which opened in 2012 as a charter school, recently relocated to a new facility on Brightside Drive, and has about 150 students. It recently became a state-run school and draws from a wide area.
The two new schools under construction are both charter schools: IDEA Innovation and BASIS Baton Rouge.
IDEA Innovation is locating on land acquired from LSU in the university’s Innovation Park near Gardere. It is one of two schools the Rio Grande Valley, Texas-based charter management organization is opening in Baton Rouge in fall 2018. IDEA Innovation, its south Baton Rouge school, is planning to open with 468 students in four grades, then add grades every year until it has 3,072 students in grades kindergarten to 12 by the year 2027.
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BASIS is building at the opposite edge of south Baton Rouge, six miles east and next to Woman’s Hospital on Airline Highway. BASIS, which is based out of Scottsdale, Arizona, plans to open its Baton Rouge school next fall with 450 students in seven grades. At capacity by the year 2024, BASIS would enroll 866 students in grades kindergarten to 12th.
State law allows charter schools to educate even more kids, up to 120 percent of the capacity mentioned in their charters. So combined, the two schools could eventually enroll up to 4,725 kids.
The oldest charter school in the area is Kenilworth Science & Technology Charter, which opened in 2009 and has about 500 students. Another charter, which will be run by The Emerge Center, will focus on children on the autism spectrum; it’s planning to operate on the property it leases from LSU at Innovation Park and expects to have as many as 140 students by 2024.
The seven new south Baton Rouge schools that the East Baton Rouge Parish school system is considering building would compete with all these charter schools for the same students. The parish School Board granted charters to IDEA in 2016, and to BASIS and Emerge in May.
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Drake said he is thinking about these charter schools as he considers what kind of construction the school system should undertake over the next decade.
“It will affect how large a school we build and what kind of (grade) configuration we build to,” he acknowledged.
Four of the seven proposed new schools the school system is considering building in south Baton Rouge would involve tearing down and rebuilding existing facilities: Arlington Preparatory Academy, Glasgow Middle, Mayfair Lab and Southdowns School.
Only in Glasgow Middle’s case would the school be rebuilt largely as it is now.
For instance, Mayfair Lab, a selective magnet school that opened in 2013, would be torn down and rebuilt, but the K-8 school would add a new high school as well as part of the deal.
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Southdowns School, now a special needs school for young children, would be rebuilt much bigger, enough to take in students from Buchanan and University Terrace elementaries, which the school system is considering closing and merging with Southdowns on one campus.
Arlington Prep Academy would be rebuilt, but not as an alternative high school, but as a school serving students in the neighboring area.
Board member Mike Gaudet said the problem with building a new school at Arlington it that its sole access road involves crossing a railroad track.
“You have a rail car open right in front of that school, you have no way to evacuate anyone,” Gaudet warned.
The centerpiece of the latest proposed project list is to build three new schools somewhere in south Baton Rouge. The cost has been pegged at $105 million total.
The school system, however, lacks land in the most in-demand areas of south Baton Rouge and so would likely have to acquire property.
Board member Jill Dyason expressed doubts during Tuesday’s presentation whether $105 million is enough money to budget.
“The land acquisition could double that,” Dyason observed.
Ed Jenkins, program manager for CSRS/Tillage Construction, which oversees most school construction in Baton Rouge, said school officials are looking at a range of options to deal with that problem, including land swaps or persuading a developer to set aside land.