Committee explores school upgrades in Lafayette

A volunteer committee charged with coming up with a plan to plan to finance facility upgrades and educational programs evaluated the facility needs of the district’s 23 elementary schools Monday night.

The entire list of principals’ recommendations for all elementary, middle and high schools in the district was about $275 million. The projected costs included estimates for new elementary/middle and high schools for the south part of Lafayette Parish, a new Pre-K through eighth-grade school for the northside area of Lafayette and plans for a new immersion high school in partnership with Lafayette.

About 35 people on the 45-member committee met Monday and split into small groups to divvy up the 23 elementary schools. A common need among the schools included the replacement or removal of portable buildings on campuses, more preschool classes, bathroom renovations and secure entrances.

“Principals know best. I think they would know better than some of us in the community, or outside the system” said John Milton, an attorney representing the State of Greater Lafayette on the committee. “Our principals’ opinions about what they need should be given credit.”

Milton’s group explored needs for J.W. Faulk, Plantation and Westside Elementary schools.

At Plantation Elementary, the majority of the costs for identified needs was for the removal of 20 portable classrooms, with a projected cost of $4 million.

“Portable classrooms have been a point of contention in the parish for a long time,” said Bobby Badeaux, principal of Edgar Martin Middle School. Badeaux and Milton were in the same small group.

Badeaux told his small group that the buildings are old and often have mold issues. Many lack covered walkways connecting them to the main school building or restroom facilities, he added.

“That’s something that definitely needs to be addressed from my perspective as a principal,” Badeaux said.

The small groups evaluated each school’s needs and attempted to rank them by priority based on the limited information provided. The groups had the input from school district employees in attendance, including Superintendent Pat Cooper, Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau and Bradley Cruice, district health and wellness director.

Committee member Donna Landry asked Cooper what type of information principals were asked to provide when compiling their list.

Cooper said the principals were asked: “Tell us what you need to get to an A school.”

“And they weren’t limited?” You didn’t say give us their top eight things?” Landry inquired.

“No,” Cooper responded. “They really talked through what they needed ... I think we got a pretty thorough view of what they needed.”

The requests are conservative, architect Kirby Pecot said after his group reviewed the needs at Charles M. Burke, Katharine Drexel and Prairie Elementary schools.

The community education plan committee includes community members and a small group of school district employees. The committee’s role is to help integrate the district’s facilities needs with its district turnaround plan, which includes initiatives to improve district performance to an A rating on the state’s accountability system.

The committee has discussed whether to use the district’s existing facilities master plan as a guide. The master facilities plan was finalized in 2010.

Green T. Lindon Elementary Principal Gina Cahee questioned the enrollment projection the facilities plan has for her school. The projected enrollment in the next few years was 688 kids, Cahee said.

“It’s really funny because right now, I have 850 kids,” Cahee said.

She said she’s had to add portable buildings to her campus annually.

Committee member Sarah Walker said the facilities master plan includes the construction of new schools that would help stabilize enrollment.

Phyllis Landry, district director of academics, said her group considered the safety and security needs for Carencro Heights, J.W. James and Ossun elementary schools first, followed by assets and then aesthetics. She said her group also saw several requests from schools for multipurpose rooms.

“We were trying to be fiscally responsible … Maybe, we could compromise and say, how about a nice covered slab outside,” Landry said.

Landry said members of her group questioned the number of portable buildings in the district.

Kyle Bordelon, district facility and planning director, said the buildings were added to address enrollment growth as far back as the 1970s. He said discussions of permanent classrooms to replace them have been just that over the past 30 years. The Lafayette Parish School Board sold $30 million in bonds in December to fund some school upgrades, including classroom expansion’s at Cahee’s school and Youngsville Middle School.

Cahee said she has no more room for portable buildings on her campus.

Construction on the classroom wing expansion for her school could begin this summer.

Some schools requested a health and wellness room. The rooms are needed for the district’s health and wellness team concept, which includes a team of school-based and district staff members who help pinpoint issues and solutions for students who may be having behavioral or health issues that is affecting their academic performance.

The concept was tested in about a dozen schools this school year, and will be expanded in the upcoming school year.