Ascension School Board ponders athletics upgrades

The Ascension Parish School Board’s Athletic Committee on Tuesday discussed $15 million in possible upgrades — including placing artificial turf on football fields and building two Olympic-sized pools — that were submitted by principals and athletic directors.

Dutchtown and St. Amant high schools listed artificial turf third on their lists of priorities, while East Ascension High School had turf 10th out of 11 items and Donaldsonville High School didn’t even request it.

“I’ve heard recently here that turf is something that has raised everyone’s interest,” said David Alexander, the district’s director of high schools.

Here are the top priorities for each high school:

East Ascension, $665,000 for an upgrade at its track facility.

St. Amant, $750,000 for a multipurpose building to be used as locker rooms for several sports.

Donaldsonville, $1 million for an expansion of its gym to feature a weight room, practice facility and coaches offices.

Dutchtown, $750,000 each, for an expanded weight room and for a football locker room.

The estimated cost for the turf was $1 million per school, and two schools cited the benefits as going well beyond football. Soccer teams, marching bands, physical education classes and even other stakeholders in the community would be able to use the facilities.

School Board President Troy Gautreau said some of the district’s athletic facilities are “deplorable.” The board spent $4 million to upgrade facilities about a decade ago, he said, but didn’t appropriate a maintenance budget and hasn’t done anything since.

“I think our constituents in the parish demand a certain level of facilities,” he said. “High school athletics are important in this parish.”

Board members questioned how much of the “wish list” to fund, and a funding source. They mentioned using existing construction budget dollars, or even attempting to pass another tax. Those questions will be answered at a later date.

Diane Allison, the district’s director of business services, said the district could use some of its surplus fund balance to pay for the improvements and had “multiple” funding sources available.

Gautreau said he has some concerns about placing field turf at one school and not at another. Even if the schools had different priorities now, he said, residents in those areas would not be happy if another school received turf first.