St. Landry may hire consultant for school facility needs

St. Landry Parish school officials are considering hiring a consultant to develop a comprehensive plan for repairing the school system’s aging structures.

The School Board on Thursday authorized Superintendent Edward Brown to engage in preliminary discussions with Poche Prouet Associates Ltd. The consulting firm’s representatives presented a proposal for an initial physical needs assessment of each district campus.

James Poche, with Poche Prouet, told the board the company would not charge the school system more than $180,000 to perform a four-part assessment of the district’s campuses.

Brown and other school officials plan to meet with Poche this week and then present an initial report at the July meeting.

Supervisor Joy Usie, who currently handles the school district’s campus maintenance program, said building maintenance is being hampered by a lack of good planning.

“One of our major problems with building and construction is that there is no long range plan for facilities,” Usie told the board. “As a result, some of our decisions in that area have been more reactive than proactive.”

Usie said the system was using “a band-aid approach. If there’s a leaky roof somewhere, then let’s go fix it. Sometimes we haven’t looked beyond solving the immediate problem.”

Usie said most of the district’s 31 school sites have classroom buildings that are at least a half-century old and are probably in need of general inspection.

A parishwide school consolidation plan formed during the late 1980s closed high schools in Melville, Morrow, Washington, Sunset and Grand Coteau, Lawtell and Plaisance.

Students previously attending those schools were sent to consolidated campuses where they attended newly built facilities at North Central in LeBeau, Northwest in Prairie Ronde and Beau Chene in Prairie Basse community.

Additions and outside annex classrooms have been erected at other schools since then, but those construction programs were never part of an overall plan approved by the board.

Poche said his firm’s assessment program, if approved by the board, would proceed according to the amount of money the district has to spend.

The St. Martin and Lafayette parish school systems have approved similar assessment plans by Poche and Associates, Poche said.

The initial phase of the assessment would survey regulatory issues at each school, including compliance with state fire marshal codes, fire alarm systems and overall building conditions. The first phase will also assess electrical, mechanical and plumbing matters issues, he said.

“After doing this part of the survey, (Poche and Associates) will come back to you with a plan on how to utilize and best implement a plan of action at each school,” Poche said.

The second part of the assessment will examine each school by grade level and determine the standards for classroom sizes and building materials at each site, Poche said.

That part of the assessment will also determine whether classrooms are sufficient to handle the number of students in attendance.

The third part of the company’s survey will determine whether existing buildings should be replaced, modernize or abandoned or whether students should be moved to other campuses.

“In the third part we will look at whether there is a need to expand the support areas of the schools, such as the cafeteria, library, or computer labs. There is also the question of whether schools are adequately prepared for state testing,” Poche said.

The final part of the assessment will allow the board to determine whether the district is ready to proceed with implementation of the plan that would include capital improvement, maintenance and whether funding is available, he said.

“The whole purpose of the overall assessment is to prevent (the school system) from being caught off guard in regards to the condition and purpose of these buildings. Instead of trying to make improvements as you go, this will allow you to make plans instead,” Poche said.