By Charles Lussier
Advocate staff writer
October 22, 2012
More than two months of repairs and maintenance and $75,000 later, Crestworth Middle School’s longtime campus at 10650 Ave. F in Baton Rouge is reopening for students on Monday, and one of the biggest critics of the surprise repairs professes satisfaction with the work.
“It’s looking really good,” said Pat McCallister-LeDuff, president of the group Community Against Drugs and Violence. “I think it’s going to be very pleasing to the community.”
McCallister-LeDuff said everything that was wrong when the repairs were announced was done right upon their completion.
In August, the state-run Recovery School District, just a week before school started, decided the old Crestworth Middle School campus, now called Crestworth Learning Academy, needed extensive repairs before it could be reopened, and quietly sent out word to parents that their children instead would temporarily share space 41/2 miles away with Glen Oaks Middle School.
McCallister-LeDuff, with the help of Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, pressed RSD to do more, noting that some parents didn’t get the information. McCallister-LeDuff’s group held a community meeting to get answers.
This time, RSD kept groups like hers informed throughout the repair process and shared the news with parents, but also announced it through local news media outlets.
“I think there was a lesson learned,” McCallister-LeDuff said.
From 2009 to 2012, the middle school became a charter school connected with nearby Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church. The charter took over the chronically low-performing middle school from the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
In June, financially in the hole, the charter school’s board handed the school back to RSD.
A subsequent fire inspection found broken exit doors that were chain-linked shut and a combination fire-and-smoke alarm system in disrepair — items that had to be fixed before the school could reopen.
RSD also found a number of other facility problems and decided the place wouldn’t be ready in time for the start of the 2012-13 school year.
Delaying repairs were unpaid bills left behind by the former charter school’s board of directors, particularly an $18,000 bill from Entergy.
Barry Landry, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said Entergy finally agreed to allow RSD to start fresh and not force it to pay the outstanding bill. That allowed Aramark, which handled the repairs, to get in and start working.
Landry said the work at Crestworth, which cost about $75,000, included plumbing, electrical repairs, painting, replacing emergency lights and signs, replacing carpet, new air conditioning in the kitchen, replacing gym doors, upgrading fire systems, and carpentry work throughout the school.
McAllister-LeDuff said Aramark and its subcontractors had promised to be done by the end of 2012 but finished two months early.
“All the times I was out there, they were moving like bees,” she said.
She said the two months at Glen Oaks Middle worked out surprisingly well.
Crestworth’s 166 students and Glen Oaks’ 215 students had different schedules and occupied different ends of the Glen Oaks campus.
Meanwhile, the future of the RSD-run Crestworth Learning Academy is uncertain. RSD leaders have already said they hope over the next two years to make all the schools they are running into charter schools.
McAllister-LeDuff said the Crestworth staff is trying hard.
“They’re putting forth every effort to make sure those kids are successful,” she said.
McAllister-LeDuff also said she hopes the state decides to stay with the current leadership of the school.
“We need to make sure they are successful because the students, they don’t need another change.”