Central High School.Copy

Central High School, pictured here in 2015, was built in 1973 and is a landmark in Central, La.

Voters in Central will decide May 9 whether to greenlight $23 million worth of renovations to Central High School to modernize the 46-year-old suburban Baton Rouge campus.

The money would come from rededicating 23.65 mills in property taxes first levied in 2009 to build Central Intermediate and Central Middle schools.

“The primary idea is to make this school back into a new school that will be viable for another 50 years,” explained Superintendent Jason Fountain.

The Central School Board on Thursday night voted to call the special election. The vote was 6-0; board member Sharon Browing was absent.

If voters say yes, the goal is to finish the upgrades by August 2022.

For months, Fountain and the board’s Finance Committee have discussed the future of its lone high school. They commissioned a demographic study and an assessment of district facilities.

The analyses concluded that the campus at 10200 E. Brookside Drive has sufficient space to meet demand for another 10 to 12 years. That lessens the need to build a new high school soon.

The school system a few years ago acquired from the state the 175-acre former Greenwell Springs mental hospital site, a potential home for a future high school.

Community meetings to go over the improvement plans were held at the high school on Nov. 19 and Dec. 4.

The board also agreed Thursday to set aside $1.5 million from its general budget to to immediately replace the grass at Wildcat Stadium with artificial turf.

The idea of moving up the installation of artificial turf at the stadium, located at the corner of Sullivan and Hooper roads, came out of those recent community meetings, Fountain said. The move grew out of frustration with the quality of the stadium versus the stadiums of rivals.

“Our stadium is kind of the face of the district when people come over for football games and things like that,” he explained.

School officials aim to move quickly, so that the new turf is installed by the start of the new football season in August, though Fountain admitted that’s a tight timetable.

If Central voters approve the tax rededication May 9, the school system would use that money to refund the $1.5 million it’s taking from its current reserves. Another $300,000 worth of stadium improvements are planned for later, including a new stadium entrance, concession stand and improvements to the parking lot.

The remaining $21.2 million is slated for the high school campus and would include a few new additions:

  • A 1,200 seat gym, giving the high school two gyms.
  • A “Commons building” with a 600-seat dining hall.
  • New kitchen and receiving area.
  • New classrooms for health science classes.

The new Commons building, complete with new sidewalks and parking improvements, would reorient the campus from Brookside Drive to further down Wax Road where the baseball field are currently.

“That would be the new entrance of the school,” Fountain said.

The bulk of the proposed improvements, though, would renovate existing spaces.

“While we’re adding some things, the primary focus of this is to renovate the interior of the building so that it’s basically brand new,” Fountain said.

The plans are to renovate the library, science classrooms, career-technical education classrooms and locker rooms. Meanwhile, the old cafeteria and an annex building would be converted. The cafeteria would become the home of the school’s Pro-Start culinary program as well as new business and science classrooms. The annex would house the ROTC and the varsity football lockers.

The proposed construction schedule would last through 2021 and the first half of 2022.

“Hopefully, we can break ground in December 2020,” Fountain said.

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