School Board attempts to cut the T-building population

Leslie D. Rose
Ascension Parish public schools growth capacity chart.

DONALDSONVILLE – “T” may be for temporary, but at some Ascension Parish Schools, the T-buildings on campus have become quite permanent. That could indeed be the case if a $120 million bond proposal fails to pass in April.

     Due to significant growth in the Parish’s public school system, there are approximately 22,000 students, making it of the top ten largest public school systems in Louisiana, and one of the fastest-growing districts in the country.

     But the last time, the Board saw an increase of funds to maintain its fast-growing schools was in 2009, and now the growth has come in even larger numbers, making the need for campus upgrades and several new schools a high priority.

     At its regular meeting on Oct. 6, The Ascension Parish School Board approved 14 projects aimed at Ascension Parish schools. The projects – to be funded through the $120 million proposal – are intended to help alleviate over-crowded schools by adding three new primary schools, a new middle school, site planning for a new high school, as well as numerous additions and renovations to present schools in the Parish.

     At the beginning of the school year, superintendent, Patrice Pujol, Ed.D. sent a letter to parents addressing the growth of 551 new students enrolled in Ascension Public Schools.

     “While consistent growth in enrollment can be attributed to Ascension Parish's economic success and our high performing academic programs, it does put a strain on aging facilities and our ability to provide adequate classroom space,” Pujol wrote.      “Fortunately, voters had the foresight to extend a 15.08 millage rate in 2009 that paid for significant upgrades and school construction projects all across our district. 

     That is why, in April, we are seeking an extension of the existing 15.08 bond mils to fund new school construction projects to address facility needs impacted by growth in the parish.”

     According to Chad Lynch, director of facilities, the quick fix of T-buildings has long-expired. There are 28 public school sites – spread among these sites are 118 T-buildings.

     “We have six primary schools that are over our goal of 600 [students],” Lynch said. “We have three new schools planned that would help relieve those six that are overcrowded.

     We only like to do the temporary building thing as we have to, up until the point where we know the growth is permanent.”

     Lynch said he has been following the growth trend, and where T-buildings were able to sustain the issue ten years ago, the pattern shows that growth will remain on an incline. Although not every public school in the parish is over-crowded, transporting children outside of their neighborhoods goes against the Parish’s community school concept.

     32 T-buildings were removed this past summer at schools where buildings have been able to maintain population, but according to Lynch, T-buildings were also added to schools.

     “At one point we were up to almost 200 T-buildings,” Lynch said.

     To the population who may not be parents or teachers, Lynch pointed out that the ability for the Board to obtain the bond items would help the general public, namely it would fix many traffic woes people experience when driving on streets near the over-crowded schools.

     For students and teachers, the removal of T-buildings lends to more safety on campus.

     “While we put in the buildings everything that you need to have in a classroom – chalkboards and fire alarm systems and intercoms; they’re fire marshal approved and handicap accessible, but there’s nothing as good as a hard block building. For security purposes, a hard building that’s harder to get in would be great.”

     Pujol ended her letter to parents on a similar note, reminding them that safety is important to the Board.

     “The ability to provide a safe environment conducive to learning is an integral part of our mission to ensure every child is successful in an ever-changing world,” Pujol wrote.

     The $120 million proposal will be presented to voters on April 9.