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|School officials remain in stalemate over Richwood project|
The Ouachita Parish School Board will go back to the drawing board to come up with a plan to build a new Richwood Junior High School.
Tuesday's regular school board meeting marked the third time board members debated the Richwood issue, only to end in a stalemate again.
The Rev. John Russell, who represents the Richwood area on the school board, asked the board to use at least $2.5 million from the school system's general fund to build a new seventh and eighth grade junior high school in Richwood.
No other school board member supported Russell's proposal.
Herbert Land Architects presented the school board with its three different plans for a middle or junior high school at Richwood.
Russell favored what was described as the second plan, which includes 24 classrooms. It could accommodate 600 students.
Total cost for the second plan would be $12,403,863. Under that plan, approximately $11,124,798 would be used to build a new Richwood Junior High School. The remaining roughly $1.3 million would be used for renovations and additions at Robinson, Swayze and Shady Grove elementary schools, which are the three feeder schools for Richwood.
Russell said Richwood school officials were only interested in the second plan.
The second plan also called for six new classrooms at Robinson and one new classroom at Swayze.
Board member Jerry Hicks said the cost estimates for the second plan may not be enough to pay for the projects.
"We have not been coming in on budget on anything we've built lately," Hicks said.
School board business manager Richard Garrett said if any of the eastside school projects went over budget, the school board would need to use general fund monies to pay for cost overruns.
The school system currently has some $21 million on hand in its general fund, but it is expected that figure will decrease to about $18 million later this year. That's because the school board decided to appropriate more money over the next several years to hopefully improve test scores by adding more classroom teachers and curriculum coordinators.
Board member Scott Robinson said, "We still have major projects that we haven't seen any figures on. There's just too many unknowns."
The school system has not nailed down a final cost estimate for the construction of a new Sterlington Elementary School. A preliminary cost estimate for that school is $9.5 million.
"If Sterlington comes up over, we would be obligated to do the same for them, and then we could be looking at taking $6 million from the general fund," Robinson said.
Russell was visibly agitated with the lack of support among other school board members for the Richwood project. He said the second plan for Richwood, or the one he favors, was "the least we could do."
"We have the money to do it and that's the best we can do," Russell said. "We cannot afford to put the younger kids with the high school students. I'm not going to accept further detriment to the students in that area."
"It is not acceptable," Russell added.
Richwood school officials have repeatedly said the younger students at Richwood need to be separated from the older students for safety reasons.
Webber suggested school system officials work with Herbert Land Architects to lower the cost of the second plan.
School board safety and construction coordinator Ken Slusher said he doesn't believe the architects can cut anymore.
"It's bare bones already," he said.
Webber also suggested the school system should search for other funding sources such as grants to help defray the cost of building the new Richwood school.
School board president Jack White agreed, adding, "Hopefully we can find some outside funding somewhere. We all know of the problems Richwood is facing, and we've got to help them."
"It's not a done deal; it's just on hold right now," White said.
Earlier this month, the school board agreed to look into building a new junior high school at Richwood instead of the original proposal of building a middle school there.
The middle school concept called for accommodations for sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. A junior high school would house classrooms for seventh and eighth graders. Under the junior high school plan, sixth graders would remain at the three elementary schoolsóRobinson, Swayze and Shady Grove.
The matter has been a source of contention since plans to build a new middle school came in over budget.
A $30-million property tax extension, which parish voters approved last year, will help pay for the Richwood project. When parish school officials lobbied for the property tax extension, school officials said tax revenues generated by the property levy 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.
The school board plans to address the Richwood issue again at its next regular meeting, which will be held at noon on May 6.