By Charles Lussier
Advocate staff writer
June 15, 2012
Every day, Baton Rouge Magnet High School looks more and more like the school that some 1,300 teenagers will fill Aug. 8.
“We’re at the stage of the project where the finishes are going in, and it moves rapidly,” program manager Earl Kern said.
The school is at the tail end of a $58.2 million renovation and expansion project.
Kern, who works for CSRS/Garrard Program Management, led a group of reporters and photographers around the 86-year-old campus Tuesday.
The floors, walls and windows are mostly installed. A few spaces are still getting substantial work, including some electrical and detail work.
The large main auditorium has been one of the most-involved jobs in the project. The walls were repainted and the plaster refined. The stage has had the black removed to reveal a bright wooden undersurface. Old windows long covered have been uncovered to allow in natural light.
On Tuesday, the auditorium seats finally had been installed — they are all original and have been refurbished, Kern said — but some seats remain covered in plastic.
“They have sound panels that have to go up. They have to fine tune all the rigging, and the sound and communications,” Kern said. “But we’re about 85 percent complete in here.”
Kern said a professional cleaning crew just started work to clean the main building, and floor waxing will start soon after.
“They’re going to save the corridors for last because there’s going to be a lot of traffic moving furniture in,” Kern said.
Kern works for a private partnership which oversees most construction for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. He has given many tours of the old high school since construction began in summer 2010. He is likely to give more as the general contractor, MAPP Construction, races to the finish line.
Kern said that MAPP and the architects have begun meeting to decide whether the construction project is substantially complete.
Once that milestone is determined, filling the building can begin, first with stuff, then with people.
Deliveries of new furniture are scheduled to start July 5. Later in the month, trucks will begin moving boxes of teachers’ possessions and other items from the former Lee High where Baton Rouge Magnet High has operated for the past two years, Kern said.
Nan McCann, principal, and her administrative team are scheduled to move in July 16 while teachers are scheduled to attend an orientation and move in Aug. 1, Kern said.
“Right now we’re on track to get the staff in, we’re on track to get the teachers in,” Kern said.
The work began with renovating the almost 112,000-square-foot historic main building that was erected in 1926 as well as the demolition of several smaller ancillary buildings.
In their place, surrounding the main building in a circle has arisen a series of new buildings that collectively offer 220,000 square feet of additional space. Although they maintain the brick façade of the original campus, the new buildings have many modern touches.
In the middle of it all is a new, large courtyard with an amphitheater.
One of the show spaces is the school’s new library, or media center as they are called these days.
It sits on the second floor of the new three-story, modern building that fronts Government Street adjacent to the historic main building. Walking in, visitors are greeted by a large open atrium with a bright decorative ceiling. The glassed-in offices and broadcast control room for radio station WBRH look down from the third floor. Looking out the front window, visitors can see old oak trees, preserved by the contractor, and the traffic passing along Government and Eugene streets.
Kern recalled a recent school tour for school administrative staff that included the school’s longtime librarian, Betty Brackins. The last stop on the tour apparently moved Brackins to tears.
“When she walked in, she just stood at the door,” Kern said. “She couldn’t believe she was going to be housed in that space.”
Catherine Fletcher, chief business operations officer, said she was also on that tour with Brackins.
“She said, ‘I was considering retiring, but not now,’ ” Fletcher recalled.