West bank renovation keeps plan at forefront

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 30, 2010

By David Vitrano


EDGARD – In creating the Educational and Facilities Master Plan for St. John the Baptist Parish schools, the district set forth three overall goals: improving academic achievement; improving organizational effectiveness and efficiency; and improving community and parental input and support of schools. The planned renovations at West St. John Elementary School — the latest of the major projects that are part of the plan — aims to incorporate all three.

The project, which is through the design stage and currently out for bid for the construction phase, will include upgrades to the entrance and main corridor of the existing building as well as the demolition of the section of the school closest to Louisiana Highway 18. This section of the school will be replaced by a more modern and consolidated structure.

Part of the redesign of the school includes making the classrooms more open. Exterior classrooms will have larger windows, and interior classrooms will feature windows to the hallway. The aim, said architect William Petersen Jr. of Billes Architecture LLC, the firm chosen to redesign the school, is to make the classrooms friendlier, more open spaces.

“We’re trying to get (the students) as much natural light as possible,” he said.

The objective in designing the classrooms in such a manner is to create spaces more conducive to learning, thereby raising academic achievement.

Once renovations are complete, all students will be housed in the same building with the hopes of improving school organization and cohesion. The addition will also feature a consolidated media center and offices for the assistant principal, counselor and master teacher.

One other special feature of the addition will be a parenting center, where parents can come for special events such as parents’ breakfasts or conferences. The renovations also aim to improve the school’s community relationship by upgrading the school’s exterior and making it more visible from the highway. The lack of parking at the site will also be addressed by the addition of a new parking lot.

“I know that once the school is finished, it will be something the community can be proud of,” said Abby LaCourse of the consulting firm CSRS.

New West St. John Elementary Principal Serina Singleton said she is looking forward to the renovations, despite the special challenges they may pose.

“Excitement just doesn’t quite explain it for me,” she said, adding, “It gives me some ownership of the school.”

The students and staff at the school will have to endure a year of construction while the project is being completed.

Students who would normally be in classrooms that are under construction will be housed in the middle school building or in classrooms off the main corridor.

“You can pretty much endure anything for a year,” said Singleton.

Construction of the $7.9 million project is set to begin the Monday after classes end. It has a targeted end date of July 2011.

Once work is complete, the school will not be much bigger in terms of square feet, but the new layout is expected to give the school a changed feel.

“The way things are laid out, it will feel a lot bigger,” said Petersen.