New Live Oak High opens

The long-awaited new Live Oak High School in Watson will open its doors to students Monday, just in time for the last week of the semester and final exams.

The $30 million project took four months longer than school officials expected because of a large copper theft in February and weather delays following Hurricane Isaac in September.

The school, at 36079 La. 16 north of Denham Springs, nearly faced another setback Friday when a final inspection by the Louisiana Fire Marshal’s Office turned up a few potential problems.

However, work crews were able to fix most of the problems, and inspectors granted a temporary certificate of occupancy, paving the way for Monday’s opening, said Capt. Brian Rayborn, assistant supervisor with the Fire Marshal’s Office.

“The issues were all very minor,” Rayborn said Friday afternoon. “They’ve still got a few little things here and there they need to fix like some handrails and stair footings, but they’re going to get their certificate and be able to open Monday.”

The temporary certificate is good for 30 days, but extensions could be granted if circumstances warranted, Rayborn said.

The 200,000-square-foot complex contains 75 classrooms, including several science, technology and business laboratories, along with a cafeteria, library and ProStart culinary kitchen, school officials said.

Most classes will be held in the school’s main two-story classroom building, which is organized by subject: Math, science and art classes and labs are on the first floor, and English, social studies and foreign language classes are on the second floor.

Students will leave the main building only to access the school cafeteria, band room, auxiliary gym, and career and technical education building.

The school’s construction has been financed through two bond issues totaling $30 million, backed by a 25-mill property tax and one-cent sales tax within the Live Oak district, school system Business Manager Terry Hughes said.

Projected costs for the campus are $26.2 million, plus an estimated $2.4 million for a turf football field and $2.7 million for an upgraded fieldhouse, Hughes said.

Any costs exceeding the bond issues would be paid out of the Live Oak district’s second cent sales tax fund, she said.

School Board member Kellee Hennessy Dickerson, who represents the Watson area, said the school’s opening has been on everyone’s Christmas wish list, and she is pleased to see it happen before the holidays.

Live Oak High Principal Tracy McRae distributed class schedules with new room numbers and maps of the new campus last week to help the school’s 1,185 students learn their way around the campus, Superintendent John Watson said.

Students and parents also had an opportunity to tour the school during an open house Sunday, and students will be given extra time each day after their morning exams to continue touring the school and choose lockers, school officials said.

Moving into the school one week before the holiday break will give administrators time to make any necessary adjustments before the spring semester begins Jan. 7, Watson said.

The transition should be a smooth one for teachers because the new campus includes all new classroom furniture and equipment, leaving only the teachers’ personal classroom instruction materials to be boxed and moved, he said.

The Transportation Department likewise should have a relatively seamless transition with school buses keeping the same routes, he said.

Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies will direct traffic during the first week and in the spring until a new turn lane is added on La. 16 in front of the school, Dickerson said.

The turn lane, which is part of a Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development overlay project, is slated for construction beginning early next year and may be completed as soon as February, Dickerson said.

The school district did include $620,000 in the project budget for the turn lane, but the Legislature approved state funding for it, Dickerson said.

That cost savings along with other savings allowed school officials to add concrete flooring and air-conditioning in the gym, technology upgrades in the classrooms and a ProStart kitchen that will allow students to earn culinary certification before graduation, she said.

Staying under budget also allowed officials to move forward in building and upgrading athletic facilities previously envisioned as a later phase of campus development, she said.

The upgrades include adding a fieldhouse, running track, concession stand and installing artificial turf on the football field, she said.

“There is still more work to be done on the track, but eventually we’ll be able to hold state track meets there, and that will help recoup some of those costs,” Dickerson said. “Softball and baseball will be the next phase.”

“Our project managers have done a great job of watching every penny to get the most for our money,” she said. “We have put so much into this beautiful campus. It far exceeds expectations.”