By Heidi R. Kinchen
Florida Parishes bureau
October 20, 2012
St. Helena Parish school system officials are maximizing grant funds and seeking a federal loan to change the face and functionality of the district’s high school campus.
The district is using $700,000 in Gulf Coast Recovery Grant funds to renovate facilities vacated by the Northshore Technical Community College in September after its new Greensburg campus was completed, St. Helena Parish Superintendent Kelli Joseph said.
The college’s former facilities are on School Board property abutting the high school campus.
The district also has applied for a $4.5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to construct a 12-classroom and administrative building on the campus, Joseph said. The application was submitted Oct. 9, she said.
The loan would be backed by revenues from the district’s half-cent sales tax for construction and maintenance projects, Joseph said.
“We just finished paying for the newest elementary school building, so we have some unencumbered money now,” she said.
Improvements to the former technical college facilities will include renovating classrooms and tearing down the cafeteria to create a larger, more functional space, Joseph said.
Principal Lewis Sullivan said the space is needed.
“Right now we’re running about 300 students through a cafeteria that’s only about 1,000 square feet,” Sullivan said. “The new cafeteria will be about 4,500 to 5,000 square feet, with fully functional wet and dry stations and completely up-to-date.
“Everything we have now is, I couldn’t even tell you how old,” he said. “It will be a pretty dramatic difference.”
The school library also will be expanded and upgraded, with 35 or more computer terminals and a comprehensive media center, Sullivan said.
Another $35,000 in grant funds has already gone toward renovations in the auditorium and gym, school system officials said.
“There had been holes in the cinderblock walls (of the gym), just covered with boards to keep animals out, and they came through and reblocked and plexiglassed the whole thing,” Sullivan said. “New paint, doors, locks and other surface stuff. And they completely remodeled the weight room and coaches’ facilities.”
The auditorium’s facelift included a new paint job as well to cover some extensive graffiti, Sullivan said.
The USDA loan, if approved, will continue the campus improvements through the construction of a 12-classroom facility and administrative suite, as well as resurfacing the parking lot and bringing the campus into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Joseph said.
The new classrooms are needed to get students out of temporary buildings that replaced a classroom building that burned in 2008, the superintendent said.
The $1.2 million in insurance money the district received from the fire has been placed in certificates of deposit, for use in the event of future emergencies, she said.
“It’s all still there, broken into various bank CDs, except for one $98,000 drawdown the School Board authorized for the purchase of new desks in all the high school classrooms and some new computers,” Joseph said. “And we still have a little left over from that to save and do some things at the technical building.”
District officials would like to make additional improvements to both the high school and elementary campuses and are asking parish voters to approve an $8 million bond issue, backed by a 40-year, 9.4-mill property tax for that purpose on Nov. 6.
Funds from the tax, if approved, would be used for renovations of classrooms, cafeteria and gym at the elementary school, in addition to new parking; a new driveway and an eight-classroom addition, Joseph has said.
The tax revenue would also be used for a 1,500-seat football stadium, lighting, track and field house at the high school, Joseph has said.
The superintendent said she is optimistic that the community will pass the tax.
“We’ve done everything the community has asked of us, becoming the most improved district, putting the right people in place and moving forward,” she said. “I feel like the community is finally proud of the district and can support us.”