EBR board awards contract to rebuild Lee High School

A Baton Rouge construction firm landed the contract Thursday to rebuild Lee High School with a bid of $49 million, beating three other firms.

The School Board voted 8-0 to hire Milton J. Womack Inc., which has until August 2015 to rebuild the high school at its historic home at 1105 Lee Drive. Board member Jill Dyason and Tarvald Smith arrived at the meeting after the vote, while board member Randy Lamana was absent.

In an unrelated matter, the board voted 7-0 to delay until April 17 a decision on whether to rehire Redistricting LLC to draw new maps with fewer School Board districts.

Dyason, Lamana and Smith were not present for the vote. Board member Barbara Freiberg abstained.

Freiberg said state legislation developed by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and filed earlier this week would shrink the board to seven members, six from districts, one elected at large.

She said the legislation seems likely to pass so the board might as well start now and have a say in how the districts are drawn.

Meanwhile, Womack’s bid to rebuild of Lee High was the lowest of four bids submitted.

The board in the past has allowed the superintendent to enter into contracts with the lowest responsive bidder, but in this case the School Board insisted on approving the bids.

The architectural design for the new Lee High was unveiled in October. The result is something more reminiscent of a small college than a traditional high school. The design calls for four unconnected buildings collectively occupying 177,000 square feet.

The largest proposed building is a Commons Building, which would include a cafeteria, gym, fitness area and a black box theater that also could be used as an outdoor theater.

The front three buildings are three-story academies, housing magnet programs for the digital arts and STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — that already are part of Lee High, as well as a new one focusing on biomedicine.

Thursday’s debate on redrawing maps for the School Board pitted board members who are open to the idea, but would prefer a larger board than the one local lawmakers are proposing, against others who want the board’s size to remain as it is.

Freiberg said reducing the board to just six districts is too drastic, but the 11-member board should consider shrinking by at least some.

Board member Vereta Lee successfully sought a delay in the vote.

She said it would be hard to represent well a much larger district than the roughly 34,000 residents she represents now. She noted that school board members in Baker, Central and Zachary all represent far fewer people.

“Tell the truth about why you want to do this,” she said, directing her comments to BRAC and supporters of that business lobbying organization.

“Nobody is going to control Vereta Lee except the Lord above,” Lee declared.

Carnell Washington, president of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers, said the legislation, if approved, would especially impact African Americans in Baton Rouge.

“They want to dilute the voice of black people and black children in this parish,” Washington said.