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|Sterlington school project hits roadblock|
Construction of a new Sterlington elementary school has hit a road block.
That's because the state Department of Transportation and Development says Ouachita Parish Schools must pay for improvements to a state highway, La. 134, at the proposed site for the new school.
DOTD officials also said it would take up to three years to complete the road improvements, which includes turning lanes at the intersection of La. 134 and U.S. Highway 165.
DOTD officials said the state would do the work, but the parish school system would have to foot the bill, said Ken Slusher, school board safety and construction coordinator.
"The state doesn't have any money," Slusher told the Ouachita Parish School Board at its regular meeting Tuesday.
"They want us to fund all the work on this state highway," Slusher said. "The state says they don't have the money to do it this year, won't have the money to do it next year, and maybe will have it in the third year."
Until the proposed road improvements are completed, "we can't build a road in to work on the school," Slusher said.
It would cost the school system $1.5 million to make the proposed improvements at the intersection where the new elementary school would be built.
The school system has $12 million to build the new elementary school. The $1.5 million in road work would have to be taken from the $12 million the school system budgeted for the project.
Slusher said other locations the school board's site selection committee picked for the new elementary school all tie into La. 134. He said the state would require the same improvements at each location.
"Even if we go three miles down the road toward Fairbanks to build it, we'll still have to do the work at the intersection," Slusher said.
He said the only site available that's not connected to a state road is property currently owned by the school board. That site is where A.L. Smith Elementary School is located in Sterlington.
"We have enough land to put the new school there, and have the elementary and middle school together," Slusher said.
"We have to have a plan b because it doesn't look like we're getting any help from our state legislators or anybody else," Slusher said.
The school system cannot afford to wait three years to build the school since construction costs continue to rise, Slusher said.
Superintendent Dr. Bob Webber agreed and suggested a meeting be set up with local legislators and Gov. Bobby Jindal to determine a solution to the problem.
"We had this same type of thing happen at West Ridge and Richwood High School and the state came in and helped us and it didn't take three years to build a turning lane onto the highway," Webber said. "I don't know what the difference is here. But if they're going to hold us up three years, we need to look at other options. We want the school at that location. That's what the committee chose and we'd love to build the school there, but if things happen like we're being told, we'd better come up with a plan b."
Sen. Mike Walsworth told school officials he will work on securing permission for the school system to begin construction of the school at the proposed site. Work on the new elementary school was scheduled to begin in January.
School board member Susan Spence, who represents the Sterlington area, said, "We purchased this land because it was a great deal, and now we're sitting with land, and we can't build on it. Our job is to educate, not build roads."
The school system could sell the land to the original owners at the same price or fair market price, according to school board attorney Elmer Noah.
While school officials work on scheduling a meeting with state lawmakers and the governor, Slusher will advertise for bids to have a survey conducted on the land where A.L. Smith is located.
He is expected to return to the school board at its next regular meeting to open bids for a surveyor.