An automotive college. Meals for the elderly. School repairs. A revolving display of World War II mementos at the airport.
The multi-year, $4.3 billion state construction budget that the Legislature sent to Gov. Bobby Jindal earlier this month is chock-full of projects that would benefit the Baton Rouge area.
At this point, though, the budget is an oversized wish list in need of tailoring to fit the state’s finances. Some projects will happen. Others will not.
The budget, known as the capital outlay plan, exceeds by $120 million the amount of money state government can borrow for projects in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Jindal is tasked with whittling down the list. He will reveal his choices in the fall, when he forwards projects to the State Bond Commission for borrowing.
“Getting it in the bill is in no way an indication that it’s actually going to be funded. I’m confident that we expressed that to everybody and I think that was understood,” said state Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, and the construction budget’s legislative sponsor.
Robideaux said project backers need to lobby the Jindal administration.
Tasha Clark-Amar, director of the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging, is not waiting on the governor. Confident that the $140,000 she is seeking from the state will materialize, Clark-Amar is moving ahead with modernizing her agency’s kitchen and increasing the number of senior citizens who receive meals.
“I’m on a wing and a prayer here,” she said.
At the Southern University Laboratory School, buckets of rainwater in the library and dimly lit classrooms demonstrate why officials are seeking nearly $2 million in the state construction budget. The money would replace the roof and make other repairs.
Built in 1958, the Swan Street school’s age is showing, from missing ceiling tiles in classrooms, to water stains on the interior walls.
A fence leans in toward the playground. Colorful posters on the walls pale under the dim lighting.
Peeling paint and rust are evident everywhere.
“I think they forgot us back here at the river,” parent Dennette Welch said, referring to the school’s location on a Mississippi River bluff.
Principal Ronnie Harrison said any assistance from the state would help boost the morale of the 325 children enrolled in pre-kindergarden through 12th grade.
“It’s 1958. We still have the same lighting and maybe some of the same bulbs,” he said.
Less than three miles away, new construction is under way at the former site of Hollywood Elementary School. The school is long gone, with only its cafeteria clinging to a plot of land at the corner of Amarillo Street and Breckenridge Avenue. In its place are new homes designed to bring affordable living to families in an impoverished area.
“It will bring homeowners to that area,” said Emel Alexander, executive director of the Urban Restoration Enhancement Corp.
Nine homes have been built with two sold, four under contract and three more up for sale. The goal is to build 21 homes. To achieve that, more land needs to be cleared and a pond removed.
The Urban Restoration Enhancement Corp. is seeking $50,000 from the state to clear land and put in sewage lines.
Alexander said the homes are the area’s first new houses in 50 years.
At the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, a 19-year-old trailer is the headquarters for training on boat crewmanship, operations and search-and-rescue.
Lt. Col. Jeff Mayne, the state’s boating law administrator, said an infusion of $300,000 in state funding would be added to other dollars to replace the outdated building.
He said he hopes this will be the year the project gets funding, after striking out in previous years.
Baker Mayor Harold Rideau also had training in mind when he requested money in the state construction budget. His city is in line to receive $165,000 for a fire training facility.
An on-site facility would allow firefighters to train while on the clock, reducing overtime, Rideau said.
Clark-Amar wants to stop outsourcing food preparation and decrease the waiting list for the thousands of people who receive meals through the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging.
A list of expensive appliance repairs forced the agency to close its kitchen three years ago. Dissatisfaction with the quality of food prepared by a contractor prompted the agency to rethink that decision.
Clark-Amar said she wants to create hot food as well as frozen meals for the area’s aging population. The improvements will include fresh milk instead of powdered and allowing produce to take up more of the plate, she said.
The biggest local funding request in the state construction budget is nearly $14 million for an automotive technician training facility. Only some of the money would be needed in the upcoming fiscal year.
The Louisiana Technical College System plans to build a $25 million training center between North Ardenwood Drive and North Lobdell Boulevard, just south of Greenwell Springs Road.
Although Baton Rouge Community College would run the school, the venture is envisioned as a private-public partnership with expensive teaching equipment donated by industry.
The state would put up $14 million. Private donations and grants would make up the difference. Local industry is expected to donate $10 million in cars for use in classrooms.
“It’s obviously a complex deal,” LCTCS System President Joe May said.
May said automotive dealers approached him about the need to graduate qualified technicians competent in computers and hybrids.
The goal, he said, is to begin enrollment by the fall of 2015 for a graduating class of 250.
Matt McKay, who owns 13 car dealerships in Louisiana, said fixing modern cars requires more than grease and a toolbox. Cars are now hooked up to computers, which spit out codes identifying mechanical problems, he said.
He said manufacturers will only pay the bill for repairs done under warranty if a certified technician does the repair.
McKay said the state’s schools currently cannot afford the necessary teaching tools to graduate certified technicians.
“We’re really doing these young kids going to technical schools a disservice. They don’t have the technology and equipment,” he said.
At the Baton Rouge Metro Airport, officials want to preserve and showcase the type of military training that occured seven decades ago when the area was known as Harding Field.
The field trained World War II fighter pilots.
Anthony Marino, director of aviation for Baton Rouge Metro Airport, said remodeling often unearths relics, whether it’s dog tags hidden in the wall or 1940s-era posters underneath wall board.
A few years ago, Marino advertised for Harding Field mementos.
“I got inundated with stuff from people who said, ‘You know, I served and I have this relic,’ ” he said.
For now, the memorabilia —posters, banners, arm bands, model airplanes and gas masks — is sitting in storage.
Marino would like to build display cases and showcase them. He turned to the idea of display cases after failing to put together enough dollars for a museum.
“I want to make sure people get some kind of recognition,” Marino said.