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West Feliciana School Board superintendent says Baines Elementary is 'at the end of its life'
Emily Cogburn
Thursday, October 18, 2018

ST. FRANCISVILLE — After hearing a preliminary assessment of Baines Elementary on Tuesday, Superintendent Hollis Milton told the West Feliciana School Board on Tuesday that the schools is "at the end of its life."

His comment came in the wake of the preliminary assessment in which Lyn Kenley of Volkert Inc. highlighted structural, security and capacity issues.

“This facility is at the end of its life and we need to accept that,” Milton said. “This is an opportunity to modernize, address safety issues, and make sure that the quality of our facilities matches the quality of our instruction. ”

Volkert is conducting an assessment of all four schools in the system — Baines Lower Elementary, Baines Elementary, West Feliciana Middle and West Feliciana High. The preliminary assessments of the other three schools should be complete by the Nov. 27 board meeting, Kenley said.

Baines Elementary, the oldest school in the district, was built around 1960 and renovated in 1998 and 2003, though the most recent renovation was mostly cosmetic, Kenley said.

The original construction documents relating to the building have been lost.

Baines Elementary serves grades 2-5 and has 637 students enrolled. Its capacity is 774 students, but that number is simply based on the number of classrooms and may not reflect rooms that have other uses, such as housing computer labs, Kenley said.

Based on the preliminary results of a demographic survey the school district is having conducted, Baines Lower will run out of space by at least 2020 or 2021 and, as a result, Baines Elementary will overflow soon after that time.

That estimate doesn’t take into consideration new subdivisions being built near U.S. 61 and Sage Hill, as well as others.

Security is a concern at Baines Elementary because students must proceed outside to pass between buildings.

“I walked up to at least four doors and just walked in the building,” Kenley said.

Resolving that issue would involve expensive key card systems or other measures.

The campus has many other facility issues, most notably deteriorating roofs on most of the buildings, with the exception of the gymnasium.

Cracking floors and walls could indicate structural problems under some of the floors, and many of the single-pane windows are in bad shape and cause efficiency problems with heating and air conditioning.

Drainage is also a concern, and there has been water intrusion into some of the buildings.

Another major problem that affects all of the district’s schools is traffic. Baines Road serves all four schools and causes a bottleneck at U.S. 61.

“I’ve made a point to be at the schools in the morning and the afternoon. It’s interesting,” Kenley said.

The traffic configuration causes a safety concern as well, since evacuation of the 2,300 students at the four schools through one road would be difficult, Milton said.

Parking is inadequate at all of the schools, and not a lot of land is available at the existing site for expansion, Kenley said.

The district has a number of options for addressing the problems at Baines Elementary, but a final decision should not be made until assessments of all four schools are complete, he said.

A new facility would cost between $23.4 million and $25.8 million, excluding costs for demolition or partial demolition of the old school and acquisition of a new site.

The current 8.25-acre site is not large enough for a new school, Kenley said.

Demolition of the old school could cost between $5 and $7 per square foot.

Leaving the old buildings standing and unused is not an option, Kenley said.

A new school could have a 1,000-student capacity and a 120,000-square-foot building. Construction of an entirely new facility would take around three years, Milton said.

The most basic renovation of the existing buildings, which would not increase the student capacity of the school or address the security issues, would cost between $7.5 million and $9.4 million.

Conducting the basic renovation, enclosing the corridors for security and constructing an addition to accommodate an extra 173 students would cost $10.3 million to $12.5 million.

None of the renovation options would alleviate the traffic or parking problems and might not add enough capacity to the schools to accommodate the projected population growth, Milton said.

Though the assessments of the other three schools haven’t been completed, Kenley said his impression is that they are about as full as Baines.

“You are going to run out of space. It’s going to take careful planning,” he said.

Milton pointed out that another issue with renovating the school, a process that would take at least 18 months, is that students would be in attendance while the work was being done.

“Renovating with students on campus is difficult,” Kenley acknowledged.

Temporary buildings would have to be moved to the site and students evacuated in sections during construction.

If the school board decides to borrow money to pay for renovations of any of the schools and replacing or repairing Baines Elementary, it will have to seek a bond issue by December in order to meet the deadline to put the issue before the voters in the May 2019 election.