Crowd rejects closure of Lutcher Elementary

A crowd of about 120 parents and residents who attended a public meeting on the uncertain future of Lutcher Elementary School overwhelmingly demanded the campus remain open as a public school.

During the gathering Tuesday night, the audience rejected proposed options
to convert Lutcher Elementary into a neighborhood community center rather than shut down or renovate the school.

The St. James Parish School Board has suggested two options for Lutcher Elementary:

Close the campus and send its students to Gramercy and Paulina Elementary schools during the next three years.

Maintain Lutcher Elementary’s existing campus.

“It seems that the general consensus of this African-American community is option number two, right?” resident Debra Bartley asked.

“There is no option but one,” Lutcher Alderman Danny Manuel said. “Keep Lutcher Elementary School open.”

The feedback from the crowd was overwhelmingly angry.

“Sir, you close down this school, what we got?” the Rev. Michael Barker demanded of School Superintendent Alonzo Luce.

“Nothing!” answered the audience.

“We have plenty of memories here, and I don’t want to see my school go down,” Lutcher Elementary sixth-grader Sabria Winfield said.

“I would rather my child be here where she’s known and not just a number,” said Davinia Striggs, whose daughter could be sent to Gramercy Elementary School with a much-larger student population.

Maintaining the campus would cost $2.47 million for renovations. Building a new school on the existing location knowing that Lutcher’s enrollment is likely to decline would cost $11.5 million, said William L. Lacher, vice president and regional manager of Vanir Construction Management Inc.

The School Board hired the construction management firm to study current and future projections of enrollment figures, population growth and industrial trends in the parish to assist in future planning.

Demographics from Vanir’s study have targeted Lutcher and Fifth Ward Elementary schools as the two campuses to close because of encroaching industry and migration of residents toward other parts of St. James Parish.

If Lutcher Elementary closes, Superintendent Luce said, government officials would consider consolidating the parish’s Head Start Program at Lutcher or using its cafeteria to prepare senior citizen meals for the new community center under construction in Convent.

Three more public meetings about the possible school closures are scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday at Fifth Ward Elementary School; 5 p.m. April 4 at the Science and Math Academy in Vacherie; and 5 p.m. April 9 at the School Board office in Lutcher.

The School Board plans to make a final decision on the school’s future during its April 23 regular meeting.