After 13 months of work, amid a lot of rain, the new Park Elementary is nearly ready to open when students return from summer break a week from now.

On Wednesday morning, East Baton Rouge Parish School Board members and administrators visited the $21.7 million school and then boarded a school bus to see $8 million worth of work at Glen Oaks High, part of a multiyear repair and upgrade of that school, which flooded in August 2016.

“Hey, Dawn, let’s head back to elementary school,” Superintendent Warren Drake suggested to board member Dawn Collins as they walked the halls of Park Elementary. “I never had anything like this.”

Park Elementary is part of shift to a so-called 21st Century design, in which educators at the school work with architects, in this case Coleman Partners, to rethink the traditional school.

“It’s more than what I was envisioning,” said Principal Stephanie Tate. “You can talk about it, but actually seeing it in person … words cannot describe. We are just totally impressed with what they’ve been able to do."

The new school is on the opposite side of the block from the old school, which was built in 1955 and is set to be demolished later this month. The new school, with an entrance facing Bogan Walk, is getting noticed.

“Everyone’s excited,” Tate said. “Parents have been calling nonstop. People are just stopping by.”

General contractor Percy J. Matherne Contractors of Baton Rouge began work on the two-story, 78,500-square-foot facility in June 2013 and substantial completion is set for Monday, the same day teachers return and three days before students return.

The school looks largely complete, with the exception of an underconstruction learning courtyard that will feature a special rainwater river shaped like the Mississippi River.

“There’s still work going on,” said Marcus Williams, program director with CSRS/Tillage Construction, the private partnership that oversees most school construction in Baton Rouge, who led the tour. “There’s a lot of things that I know are missing, things you won’t see.’

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. And it has about 250 students now, but school officials say they expect enrollment will grow in the days to come.

The school’s use of space is different than other elementary schools.

Each of the seven grade levels, from prekindergarten to fifth grade, are set up in pods, each serving as their own “school house.” Each pod consists of three classrooms and a small group room clustered around a collaborative space that resembles a futuristic living room.

“So each pod has a restroom?” board member Jill Dyason asked incredulously.

“Yes,” Williams responded.

“How many restrooms are there?” Dyason continued.

“A lot,” Williams said.


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