(The Daily Advertiser) – The Lafayette Parish School Board has taken the first steps toward constructing new performing arts classrooms and a black box theater at Comeaux High.
But it came with questions about how the district budgets and prioritizes projects.
The board agreed Wednesday to allocate $500,000 of future bond proceeds toward the project. The original proposal asked the board to allocate $6 million, which is the estimated total project cost.
The new spaces are necessary at Comeaux because the performing arts academy will move there from Lafayette High next year. It will include a 100-seat black box theater and specialized classrooms for music, dance and other arts.
Board member Erick Knezek suggested postponing movement on the project until officials know a more accurate construction cost.
“If we put it in writing, and budget by it, it becomes an expectation,” Knezek said at the meeting. “The realities are that everything we’re doing is costing more … I think we should only allocate money once we know more realistic costs.”
Superintendent Donald Aguillard said any delay would hinder the Comeaux project.
“We’re not really giving the architect any direction,” Aguillard said. “I’m comfortable with the finance committee setting the budget at $6 million … I feel like the $6 million was a good number, knowing there might be some additional costs. We have to give the architect a ballpark figure.”
Board Vice President Dawn Morris agreed that officials might need to re-evaluate their budgeting procedures.
“I don’t think this project is what we need to do it on,” Morris added. “We have less than 12 months. We are really short on time.”
The board also agreed to begin searching for an architect for the project. Aguillard and his staff will have to articulate the project scope when discussing it with potential architects.
Board President Tommy Angelle voted against both the funding and the architect search. In doing so, he raised concerns that more money is being spent on facilities in southern Lafayette Parish while other schools have major needs.
“There’s a school on the north side of town, Evangeline Elementary, that has more temporary buildings than brick-and-mortar,” Angelle said. “These students sometimes have to get their clothes dried when they go from one class to another … We’re talking about spending millions and millions of dollars for a person to practice his cello or violin or oboe or whatever instrument it is. It’s tough. I just think that those kids (at Evangeline) deserve a piece of the pie too.”
Board member Justin Centanni said other schools also have more temporary than permanent classroom buildings, including Broadmoor Elementary and L.J. Alleman Middle.
Centanni called the situation “exceptionally unfortunate.”
“I wholeheartedly agree that students who go to school in portable buildings deserve better,” Centanni said. “There’s a lot of programs that deserve better than what we can provide. We’ve got to start somewhere.”
Board member Jeremy Hidalgo, whose district includes much of southern Lafayette Parish, said Angelle made “a damn good point.”
However, Hidalgo noted he district has limited bonding capacity for construction projects.
“A lot of money is going in a certain area, and it’s because of the growth,” Hidalgo said. “I just hope that we can focus on spending that bonding capacity to increase our actual school capacity, and focus on what we’re going to do as a board to increase our revenues, to address Evangeline and every other school that has butler buildings.”