In With The New
07/14/2017 07:00AM ● Published by Christy Quebedeaux
Gallery: Milton Elementary Middle School and Southside High [4 Images] Click any image to expand.
New Schools For Lafayette Parish
By Hailey Hensgens Fleming
Going back to school this August may be more exciting than usual for several students in the Youngsville, Broussard and Milton areas. Rather than returning to the outdated facilities that plague Lafayette Parish, the students of Milton Elementary Middle School and Southside High School will be gracing the halls of freshly renovated or newly constructed facilities.
The renovation and construction of these schools have been a long time coming for the area, which has not constructed a new public high school since the completion of Acadiana High in 1969. In the nearly 50 years since its construction, there has been a parish-wide struggle against facilities that are either dated or too small to accommodate growing student enrollment.
Nearly every school in Lafayette Parish has a student enrollment that has at least doubled the structure’s intended capacity leaving not only a shortage of classrooms, but also a shortage of library and cafeteria space. Jeremy Hidalgo, District 9 School Board Member and Chairman of the Facilities Committee adds, “Every one of our facilities today does not have the core facilities that are needed to meet capacity.” Although intended to be a temporary fix, this capacity inadequacy has led to the use of more than 400 modular buildings across the parish, some of which have been in place for more than 40 years.
When the new school board members took office in January of 2015, these issues were at the forefront of their minds, but they first had to decide on how to proceed. They unanimously agreed more drastic measures were necessary in order to permanently remedy the problem.
“It’s not right or fair to use our bonding capacity simply to replace butler buildings,” Hidalgo explains. “We certainly don’t have enough to replace them all over the parish, so who gets the new buildings?” Instead, they chose to use those funds towards the renovation and new construction of facilities, which would increase overall student capacity. “We are using our bonding capacity to increase capacity and not just to replace buildings,” he reasons.
The board members acted swiftly and within six months had made a recommendation and approved the construction of Southside High School. The school would be built on the school board’s Section 16 property in Youngsville, a location warranted by the rapid population growth of it and its winged communities of Broussard and Milton.
Abell + Crozier + Davis Architects were brought on board to design the new facility, working in conjunction with a Texas based firm, Pfluger Architects. A focus group of 45 community individuals, consisting of educators and other professionals, selected the current model, which was designed to promote student collaboration and highlight the schools educational focus on agricultural and energy technologies. Through a method called Construction Management at Risk, the parish was allowed to circumvent the traditional bid process and begin construction rapidly. Within an unprecedented 20 months since its conception, the 260,000 square foot structure is set to be (nearly) complete and will open in August 2017 with 9th and 10th grades.
The builders have not been the only ambitious participants in this process.
With newly appointed principal, Catherine Cassidy, at the helm, Southside High School’s new administration and faculty have been hard at work constructing a rigorous academic curriculum with high standards of achievement. Katherine Schexnayder, Southside’s Instructional Strategist, explains, “Ms. Cassidy believes a school should seek to educate the whole child. We do not want to be a school known for being great in just one area. We want to have solid programs all around, and thus far we are off to a great start in achieving that goal.”
In accordance with the greater parish focus, Southside will seek to prepare every student for college or career readiness after earning his or her diploma. Hidalgo elaborates, “Southside is going to focus on academics, but we also want to make sure we’re catering to those folks that may not want to go to college, but learn a trade instead.”
The new school campus will be especially equipped to do both with career technology facilities as well as spaces uniquely designed to promote collaboration. “Every aspect of Southside was designed with the educational opportunities of our students, present and future, in mind,” says Schexnayder. The three-story building will accommodate 1,750 students boasting a large dining area, laboratories, an atrium and a specially designed two-story library, also known as the MAC (Media Academic Center). “It includes a Maker Space which is designed to give students an opportunity to engage in the work of scientists, engineers, artists, filmmakers and mathematicians through inventing, tinkering and creating,” she adds. Additionally the east and west wings will house two gymnasiums, locker rooms, a black box theatre and a green screen for the performing arts program.
The school will also be outfitted with new technologies for its students, as each will be provided with a Chromebook. “These amenities will revolutionize how we teach and how our students learn,” explains Schexnayder. “Our teachers are ready to meet the challenges in front of them, and are excited to see how these amenities help our students achieve growth.”
Although a massive undertaking, Southside High School has not been the only area of focus. The school board turned their sites on Milton Elementary/Middle School, another Lafayette Parish school struggling under the current capacity crisis. This Pre-K through 8th grade school blends two campuses into one, the only such model in the parish, and has been repeatedly ranked as a high performance school despite the spatial challenges they face.
It was constructed in the early 1980s to house approximately 500 students, but currently has nearly 1,000 enrolled. Thirty-four portable buildings have been added to accommodate this growth, including a portable restroom facility. However, many are in need of repairs or replacement and have also taken over the school’s playground due to a lack of space. Additionally, inadequate parking has left teachers parking along the road and afternoon carline backed up along Highway 92.
The renovation project, budgeted at $12,182,000, is set to remedy these problems with 67,822 square feet of new construction and 10,613 square feet of renovated space. A new, 2-story wing will be added to the existing structure, which will add a total of 42 classrooms and administrative space to the school and replace every portable building on the premises. The school will also undergo major renovations to enlarge the cafeteria, rebuild the library and repurpose the administrative areas. Additionally, a new parking lot and driveway will allow teachers and parents easier and safer access to the school.
Construction began four months ago and is set to be complete for the 2018 - 2019 school year. When completed, this high performance school will be able to accommodate a maximum of 1,200 students giving these students and their teachers the learning environment they deserve.