Central School Board takes first step to acquire state land

The Central School Board on Monday took the first step toward securing property for a future high school, settling on state property that has mineral springs and a history that goes back to the Civil War.

The School Board agreed unanimously to enter for five years into a cooperative endeavor with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals to use up to 150 acres of its property for “educational purposes.”

The property is just north of the intersection of Hooper and Greenwell Springs roads along the banks of the Amite River. For more than a century, the property was the home of a state hospital complex that was closed by DHH in spring 2012, transferring the remaining mental patients to East Louisiana State Hospital at Jackson.

Superintendent Michael Faulk said he’s been working with state Sen. Mack “Bodi” White, R-Central, to develop legislation to transfer the property from DHH to the Central school system. The Legislature is set to convene March 10.

“We have to do the cooperative endeavor agreement first, and that’s when the legislative process can take over,” Faulk said.

Faulk said the cost of the transfer is likely about $750,000. But he said the school system will offset much of that expense by paying to demolish the old hospital, removing some asbestos in the process, once the property transfer is complete.

“We would immediately clean that site out and reduce our liability,” Faulk said.

School Board President James Gardner said he estimates about 100 acres of the property is suitable for building, and a new high school would require 75 to 80 acres for an estimated 2,400 students, double the enrollment of Central High School now.

He said construction of a new high school is a long way away.

“We’re talking 10 to 15 years,” he said.

He said BREC plans to turn the low-lying portion of the property along the river into walking trails and nature areas.

“The lowlands in the back is what BREC wants,” Gardner said.

In other action, the School Board agreed unanimously to seek bids for the construction of a new ninth-grade academy at Central High School and to demolish unused buildings at the former Central Middle school. Voters on Nov. 16 agreed to sell bonds for the projects, which were estimated to cost $8.1 million and $1.8 million, respectively.

Faulk said the schedule calls for bids to be opened on April 11. He said demolition on the old middle school buildings, which will start first, requires about three to four months of work. The construction of the new ninth-grade academy won’t start until late May when the school year ends, and construction will last a year with the opening set for August 2015.

Board member David Walker said he’s become frustrated with contractors who don’t finish work on time.

“It seems like if you put down that something is going to be finished by a date, they’re going to laugh at you,” Walker said.

The old middle school property has a gym, known as the girl’s gym, that was built in the 1920s and is remembered fondly by many Central residents. Faulk said he will place a public notice, giving interested citizens a chance to move the gym to a different location if they can pay for it and do it quickly enough.