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|Parish school board entertains junior high concept for Richwood|
The Ouachita Parish School Board will direct architects to look at the possible construction of a junior high school concept in Richwood instead of building a middle school, which has been on the drawing board for months.
Last month, school board member John Russell asked the parish school system to use $3 million to $4 million in general fund monies to help pay for the construction of a new Richwood Middle School.
Voters in eastern Ouachita Parish approved a $30-million property tax extension last year. At the time, school officials said proceeds from the tax extension would pay for the construction of a new Richwood Middle School and a new Sterlington Elementary School, as well as renovation projects at existing eastern Ouachita Parish schools.
Higher-than-anticipated construction costs put the proposed middle school at Richwood over-budget and left school system officials scrambling to find a solution.
Herbert Land Architects presented the school board with two renderings of the proposed Richwood middle school. One concept included eight classrooms for each grade level for a total of 24 classrooms; the other had 10 classrooms per grade for a total of 30 classrooms.
Superintendent Dr. Bob Webber said the only viable option would be the second concept with 10 classrooms per grade level. He said the current junior high school is using 30 classrooms, so the 24-classroom concept would be too small.
"If we used the first one, we'd start out needing several T-buildings," Webber said.
The 30-classroom concept would cost more than $13 million. Architects told the school board they cut every corner possible to eliminate wasted space to save money.
Webber said school system officials reviewed all options, adding that "the bottom line is we are coming in $4 million over budget. We looked at ways to cut in every way we can. When we come in over budget, there's a few choices. We can pull from other areas or take money out of the general fund, or we can cut out part of the building. The only thing I can recommend is to utilize the junior high wing already in place, which has 17 classrooms already there, and build north from there. That's not what we wanted to do, not what we hoped, but this is the closest thing that can be done."
Richwood school officials are concerned the junior high school concept would not totally separate young students from the older high school students.
Richwood Junior High principal Tereatha Chisley told the school board she would settle for the junior high school concept. The proposed facility would house seventh and eighth grade students. The middle school would have housed sixth graders, too, but under the junior high plan, they will remain at the three elementary schools at Robinson, Swayze and Shady Grove.
"I will take whatever you give me, but I cannot live with an add-on to the high school," Chisley said.
Russell added, "We have gone back from our original decision. Our fight was we needed a new school for Richwood, just as we need one at Sterlington. The school keeps growing, and I guess our priorities may not be in that area. We accommodate growth in other areas, but we still have space problems. Instead of just patching on, why not do something now that we can be proud of. I don't think we're being selfish and we shouldn't have to beg every year."
Russell eventually agreed to look at the junior high school concept. He asked architects to devise a junior high plan and to report back to the school board at its next meeting.