Ascension considers 3 new freshmen academy buildings

The Ascension Parish School Board’s Strategic Planning Committee will push preliminary plans to build freshmen academy buildings at three high schools to keep up with parish growth and a continuing influx of new students.

On Tuesday, the committee reviewed a presentation it first saw about a year ago about the creation of these freshmen academy buildings.

With funding available from the school district’s general fund balance and the possibility of spending unused bond monies on the project, School Board members sought to revisit the topic of freshmen academies at East Ascension, St. Amant and Dutchtown high schools.

Student enrollment for the 2012-13 school year reached 21,167 as counted in October, parish schools spokesman Johnnie Balfantz said.

Student enrollment is expected to grow next year by about 3 percent, bringing an additional 550 students to parish classrooms during the 2013-14 school year, school officials have said.

“There’s no doubt this is a transition method to be able to put off building a high school at least for a few years, but we’ll be planning that high school ... shortly on the heels of getting this accomplished,” School Superintendent Patrice Pujol said.

That new high school likely will be built in the Prairieville area, although that is not guaranteed, School Board President Troy Gautreau said.

To help with the district’s growth, Chad Lynch, parish schools director of planning and construction, told the committee the freshmen academies would be built as new additions to the three high schools and would each house about 600 ninth-grade students.

The remaining 1,600 or so 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade students at each school would use the existing classrooms with a few possible classroom additions and T-buildings, or temporary buildings, for schoolwork.

That would bring the total student population at each high school to about 2,200, a number School Board members asked him to target, Lynch said. Currently, the high school populations range from 1,700 to 1,900 students at each campus, Lynch continued.

Elective classes and the use of each school’s cafeteria would be shared by all grades, Lynch said.

Preliminary construction costs of the freshmen academies range between $12.2 and $14.6 million each, Lynch said.

The committee asked Lynch to finalize project costs and firm up details with the school architects and then return for another presentation.

The freshman academy projects plan must then go before the School Board for a final vote, Balfantz said.