Campus construction, renovations eyed

Sheila Smith
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Proposals concern Jennings, Welsh and Elton schools

(Editor’s note: The following article focuses on proposals expected to be included on March 2019 ballots. These items are not on ballots currently being cast in early voting ahead of the Nov. 6 election.)

Voters in three different school districts will decide next year whether to back proposals for new or renovated campuses in the parish.

The March 30, 2019, vote will involve School District 2 in Jennings, Consolidated School District 1 in Welsh and School District 22 in Elton.

Superintendent of schools Kirk Credeur said school board members and some central office personnel would soon begin meeting with civic clubs and elected officials to share details on proposals, as well as receive public feedback.

School District 2 (Jennings)

A half-cent sales tax and 13-mill property tax currently fund a series of voter-backed bonds that provided for the construction of Jennings High School. This current series will be paid off in March 2023.

Essentially extending these two taxes would fund the construction of an elementary school that would house pre-K through sixth grade. At this time, James Ward Elementary educates students in grades pre-K through second. Third through sixthgrade students attend Jennings Elementary (JES).

“The district would not be asking the public to approve additional taxes,” Credeur said. “As it stands now, those taxes are set to expire when the JHS bonds are paid off. If voters chose to extend these same taxes, the tax revenue would then begin funding bonds for a new elementary school.”

No location, blueprints or a school name have been determined, but the cost for such a project is estimated at $29 million. Credeur said JHS was built for about $25 million in 2004.

If a new elementary is built, the James Ward and JES buildings would possibly be demolished.

“Financially, it is not feasible to remodel or upgrade the two elementary schools in Jennings,” Credeur said. “We would have to replace so much just to meet today’s building codes that the costs would be astronomical. We also have to consider that many of our students are still being educated in temporary buildings. Our classrooms are growing, so we need to prepare for more student enrollment.”

A new elementary would not only provide additional space, he said, but a safer, efficient and technologically-advanced building.

“ We are generating plans to prioritize our needs and make sure we address issues that will sustain our facilities well into the future.”
– Superintendent Kirk Credeur

A few concerns and factors to be considered, according to Credeur, include the following:

• The JES and James Ward buildings were designed to standards of their time. This included ample rollout windows and courtyards that were used to increase ventilation. With these buildings now cooled and heated with central units, the windows actually allow central air to escape the building.

Courtyards were initially utilized to increase airflow through windows. Now they offer their own issues.

“These courtyards hold water,” Credeur said. “Any time there is significant rainfall, those areas flood and you have standing water for a while.”

The Jennings district would likely see reduced HVAC costs with a new building.

“You would go from cooling and heating two old buildings to one efficient building,” he said.

On top of efficiency problems, the windows also pose modern safety concerns.

“If you look at our two elementary buildings from the street, you can see through a number of windows that face into hallways and classrooms, so you see when students are coming and going,” Credeur said. “That’s not safe in today’s world, but this was not something that needed to be considered decades ago.”

• The architect is keeping in mind that students up to first grade must be effectively separated from those in grades three and up.

“JHS is a great example of how younger students are separated from high schoolers in one building,” Credeur said. “With ideas for the elementary campus, we’re even considering how the age groups can move in and out of rooms they would have to share, like computer labs, without interacting with one another.”

• No location has been chosen for a new school. Many factors must go into choosing a site. Credeur said issues that must be considered include available acreage, road access, traffic flow and sewage and water needs, just to name a few.

“For a new elementary, we would need at least 20 acres, because you do have to consider needs for future plans,” he said. “Plus, by law, we can’t pay more than the appraised value for land, and we can’t necessarily pay very high appraised values, either. We have to keep in mind that we are stewards of public dollars.”

Even finding land at low cost could have its downfall. For example, Credeur said, purchasing land within a flood zone would impact the district’s annual flood insurance premiums.

“We will also need a site that will allow for good traffic flow,” he said. “You can see that the streets around James Ward get very crowded in the mornings and afternoons. The staff there is very organized and moves vehicles through quickly. But you do see that congestion twice a day during school hours.”

School officials would like to see drop-off and pickup areas designed so that all vehicles are parked off main roads. Additionally, larger covered areas would be planned to accommodate the dropping off or picking up of more than one student at a time. Credeur said separate areas would be required for students utilizing bus transportation.

• While combining campuses might lead to cutting costs for utilities and certain inventory, this does not mean staff and faculty numbers would be reduced or increased.

“When we look at reducing staffing numbers at any school, we do it through attrition,” Credeur said. “For example, if at the end of the year a teacher is retiring but we have staff in place to cover her subjects, or enrollment numbers show hiring a replacement is not necessary, then that position would not be filled with a new person. We do not have the goal of cutting any staff numbers with the creation of a new school.”

Ultimately, the superintendent added, school board members have the final say on creating or eliminating any position within the parish system.

The board members whose districts include Jennings are Phillip Arceneaux, District 3; Robert Menard, District 4; Don Dees, District 5; David Capdeville, District 6; and District 7, Jimmy Segura. District 8, represented by David Doise, includes a portion of the city.

Consolidated School

District 1 (Welsh)

Public support would determine if Welsh-Roanoke Junior High would be shuttered. All Welsh students would then be placed on the campuses adjacent to one another that currently contain the high school and elementary.

Credeur said in shaping overall ideas for this district, officials took into consideration a variety of input from different stakeholder groups in Welsh.

“The school district made a very challenging decision about how to move forward,” he said. “We felt compelled to bring forth a plan that we believe is feasible, benefits our students and community and most importantly, one that we believe a majority of the voting public will support at the polls. Ultimately the voters will tell us if we are correct or not.”

Property owners in the consolidated district currently pay 12.15 mills for bonds that will be paid off in March 2020. Next year, the district will seek a single school bond millage increase from 12.25 mills to an average of 36 mills over the life of the bond to generate approximately $14.6 million for the following improvements:

• For a middle school, construction would be placed on the Welsh High campus. This would include a new gym and gym parking lot. Administrative renovations would be made to accommodate this new school.

• A new ag shop would be built.

• Brown Hall would be removed and in its place, a new elementary classroom building would be constructed.

• Exterior facades of both Welsh High and Welsh Elementary would be renovated. Numerous security upgrades would be performed on the entries of each of these schools.

• Playground and fencing improvements would take place. A new bus canopy at the rear pickup area near the cafeteria would be constructed.

• The nearby track would be resurfaced, and baseball and softball projects initiated.

Jason Bouley represents District 12 in the Roanoke area while District 11 in Welsh is represented by David Troutman.

School District 22 (Elton)

Officials recognize that as a small town, Elton’s tax base is currently limited. This district’s goal is to fund the most necessary improvements at the high school and elementary campuses.

“We are generating plans to prioritize our needs and make sure we address issues that will sustain our facilities well into the future,” Credeur said of Elton. “These changes would include addressing safety and security issues at both campuses, addressing the high school auditorium and improvements to the elementary building.”

Property owners in School District 22 currently pay 13.77 mills. The current series of bonds will be paid off in March 2021. Next year’s ballot proposal will ask voters to approve a school bond increase from the current rate to 23 mills over the life of the bond to generate about $4 million.

“Although $4 million is a tremendous amount of money that our schools desperately need, it falls short of the true needs that both schools have,” Credeur said. “The capacity of the Elton district to generate revenue is heavily challenged by the economy and a lack of a substantial sales tax base.”

School board member Charles Bruchhaus represents District 9 in Elton.