School Board to eye options for temporary Lee High School site

The East Baton Rouge School Board will consider at least two possible temporary homes for Lee High School students while their dilapidated high school is rebuilt.

In a memo to the board, Catherine Fletcher, chief business operations officer for the school system, is presenting four options for what she’s describing as “swing space” for Lee High.

Three of the options call for the high school to temporarily assume control of the Valley Park Alternative School campus. The fourth option would have the high school move into vacant space in Town South Shopping Center, where for years the school system leased space for an alternative school called Staring Center until that program relocated to north Baton Rouge.

“As the current Lee High site is scheduled for demolition during summer 2013, it is imperative that a decision is reached regarding a swing space,” Fletcher told the board.

The School Board is planning to take up the issue when it meets at 5 p.m. Thursday at the School Board Office, 1050 S. Foster Drive. The board is not expected to take a final vote on the Lee High temporary home until its Feb. 21 meeting.

Fletcher estimated the costs, likely ranging from $6.4 million to $8.2 million, depending on the option selected.

The $6.4 million option involves relocating and upgrading up to three vacant spaces at the Town South Shopping Center at 1919 Staring Lane. The cost falls to $3.8 million if fewer than 300 students are housed there, an unlikely scenario given the expected enrollment for the high school.

The more expensive $8.2 million option would involve upgrading both Valley Park and the shopping center.

The School Board voted Nov. 15 to rebuild the old rundown Lee High campus at 1105 Lee Drive, requiring a two-year relocation until construction finishes in summer 2015 at an estimated cost of $58.5 million. In January, the board selected Baton Rouge-based Grace & Hebert Architects, which is joining forces with the much larger Omaha-based firm, DLR Group, to design the new high school. The new facility will be a two-story building that can house about 1,200 students.

Lee High, long the neighborhood high school for much of south Baton Rouge, was shut down in 2009 to avert a possible state takeover. Soon after, it became the temporary home for Baton Rouge Magnet High until that school was renovated and expanded.

In August, when Baton Rouge Magnet High reopened at its historic home, Lee High reopened as well. It started with 226 students, just ninth- and 10th graders. The school, though, will add a junior and a senior class over the next two years and will likely double in enrollment over the next two years.

On top of that, the school system plans to add a magnet program to Lee High slated to start this fall. The new program will likely focus on science, technology, engineering and math, as well as digital arts.

If the School Board opts to use Valley Park, the students at the disciplinary school would have to go elsewhere. Two of the options Fletcher is presenting would involve some or all of the Valley Park students relocating to Town South Shopping Center. Another option, they would relocate to unspecified high schools or middle schools with space.

Valley Park takes in students expelled or under long-term suspensions from other middle and high schools in Baton Rouge. It has about 130 students.