High school in planning stage
Within the next month, a decision is needed on whether to tear down and rebuild Lee High School where it is or to build a new school elsewhere, East Baton Rouge Parish School Board members were told Wednesday night.
Curt Soderberg, with CSRS/Garrard Program Management, the joint partnership that oversees most school construction in Baton Rouge, told the board he also wants more guidance on whether the rebuilt high school would have a magnet program, as was discussed in the past.
Soderberg said he also wants to know how many students the new school would educate and from what grades. Once those unknowns are known, the school system can hire an architect and start designing the new high school, he said.
Similarly, Soderberg asked the board to think about where Lee High’s more than 200 ninth- and 10th-graders will go while the school is being rebuilt, a project scheduled to be complete by August 2015.
“I’m not saying (you have to make a decision) tonight,” Soderberg said. “These things are going to have be sorted out so we can start the planning process.”
A couple of Lee High graduates and nearby residents had their own thoughts.
“We would like to see it at the site it’s at, at Lee High,” said William Gladney, president of the Southside Civic Association and a graduate of the class of 1969.
Gladney also said he and other voters assumed that rebuilding on the current site was the plan when they renewed a 1-cent sales tax in 2008 and $58.5 million was earmarked for rebuilding Lee High.
Noel Hammatt, a 1975 Lee High graduate and the former School Board representative for that area, also suggested rebuilding the school where it is.
“I think that entire community around there would greatly benefit from a new high quality magnet and public school for the kids of that area,” Hammatt said.
Lee High, located on 26 acres at 1105 Lee Drive, was long the neighborhood high school for south Baton Rouge but was closed in 2009 to avert a possible state takeover. The school system reopened the school last month — for ninth- and 10th-graders only — and hopes it can eventually attract area students.
Soderberg said the facility is in bad condition and should be torn down.
Eight of the 11 School Board members were present Wednesday, and a couple said they would prefer the school be built on a new site.
Soderberg said that’s possible, but it would involve building in a flood plain because that’s the only property large enough available nearby and would likely be along Burbank Drive. He said it would cost roughly $3 million more to purchase the land and pay for mitigation to offset the affected wetlands.
Also, getting a wetlands construction permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would take nine to 12 months, likely delaying construction. Soderberg said construction would need to start by early 2014 to meet the August 2015 completion date.
Soderberg did not explicitly recommend rebuilding on the current site Wednesday, but School Board leaders said he did so recently in a private meeting discussing Lee High.
Board member Jill Dyason said she wants to first look at length at all the alternatives before moving forward with rebuilding on the same site.
Dyason, who has expressed concern repeatedly about overcrowding at schools in Woodlawn area that she represents, asked many hypothetical questions about alternatives that could create more school options in south Baton Rouge.
“I’m trying to see if there’s any way to give that part of town a lot more for the same amount of money,” Dyason said.
Earl Kern, program manager with CSRS, said the current plans envision building a two-story high school with the same square footage as Woodlawn High, which was built in 2003 and initially housed about 1,200 students. The school in southeast Baton Rouge was later expanded.
Superintendent Bernard Taylor said he wants a more forward-looking design than Woodlawn’s, one that embraces greater use of technology and online learning.
“I don’t want to do something that is simply a replication of what we are already doing,” Taylor said.
The board also was presented with several places that the 350 to 550 students who will be attending Lee High could go while construction occurs, but all had shortcomings.
The possible “swing spaces” included the Professional Development Center, the Christa McAuliffe Center, the old Eden Park and Nicholson elementary schools, or rented space in Town Square shopping center along Staring Lane.
A couple of board members suggested that Valley Park Alternative School, originally built as a middle school for 750 students, is an option.
Lee High served as a “swing space” for Baton Rouge Magnet High School students while that school was renovated and expanded.