Change of plans adds parking lot at Central High

At a hastily called meeting, the Central School Board agreed Monday to spend $200,000 to convert a practice field at the rear of Central High School into a parking lot and have the work done in time for the teenagers’ return from summer break Aug. 7.

“If we get a break in the weather, we’ll get it done in time,” said Superintendent Michael Faulk.

The new asphalt parking lot, which will face Cloudland Drive, is a change order to a $5.27 million contract with Buquet & LeBlanc Inc. The Baton Rouge-based general contractor is building a ninth-grade academy at the high school, which is set to be complete in summer 2015.

The proposal for a new parking lot moved fast to authorization. It was first discussed publicly by the School Board’s Facilities/Equipment Committee at noon Friday, which then recommended the board approve the change order as soon as possible, prompting the special meeting held at noon Monday.

Faulk described to the board Monday the chain of events that led to the need for a new parking lot.

It started when the city of Central required the school system to build a retention pond to aid drainage for the new ninth-grade academy, something Faulk said they hadn’t expected to have to do.

That requirement prompted shifting the placement of the ninth-grade academy on the high school property. The retention pond is going in where Buquet & LeBlanc planned to stage its equipment. The staging area then had to move to the student parking lot along Wax Road.

Faulk said he thought that parking lot was big enough to accommodate both students and construction crews but reconsidered when construction began in early June and saw how much space the crews took up.

“We realized at that point that the parking wasn’t enough to be safe,” he said.

Dave Freneaux, a CPA who co-owns a transportation business and a weekly newspaper in Central, questioned the rush to approve the item Monday and quizzed board members on whether they had looked carefully enough at alternatives.

Several board members went through a few different alternatives they had considered and why they rejected them.

Board member Jim Easley said schools never have enough parking.

“It’s something for the future, and it won’t go to waste,” Easley said.

Faulk said the ninth-grade academy bids came in $280,000 under estimates, leaving enough money to pay for the new parking lot. The project has had previous problems and delays. Buquet & LeBlanc’s bid was challenged by rival bidder Cangelosi Ward, of Baton Rouge, and the matter was not resolved until late May after an arbitrator sided with Buquet & LeBlanc.