New Lafayette Excessive plan yields frustration after shedding baseball, softball fields pitched to folks | Schooling
The first mockups for the new Lafayette High School were unveiled to the community during a Tuesday town hall in the school’s auditorium, garnering interest and concern from the parents of student athletes, frustrated by the projected loss of two sports fields.
The designs featured the planned campus footprint, including where the academic building would be and how parking and athletic fields at the Congress Street campus would change. The school board opted to rebuild on the existing campus after overwhelming support in a public survey.
School board member Justin Centanni said the new, three-story school building would be over 273,000 square feet and be built to accommodate 2,300 students; the school currently serves 1,900 students, Principal Rachel Brown said.
Parking would increase to 800 available spaces under the proposed plan, Centanni said.
The District 6 representative said the planning process was informed by student and staff surveys and feedback from the LHS Steering Committee, featuring voices like former principal Patrick Leonard and band director Scotty Walker, and the LHS Curriculum and Instruction Committee.
Centanni, whose district includes Lafayette High, said navigating around rising construction costs while making the most of the school’s $100 million budget was a major planning constraint. The budgeted funds cover construction of the school, parking and renovations to the school’s gym, he said.
Eric Crozier, principal architect for ACSW Architects, said the architectural team is trying to balance the needs of specific student groups and stakeholders’ desire for dedicated student spaces with flexibly planned spaces that allow for more dynamic use.
“With the cost escalations and everything we’re dealing with, it’s very difficult to build a space that’s specific…We’re trying to get the most bang for our buck on everything that we can and not design something that’s so specific that we can ‘t use it for at least one other thing,” he said.
Crozier said he hopes to have another town hall meeting with detailed design proposals for the exterior and interior of the new building in the next two to three months.
In the unveiled plans, the main school building will be pushed back toward the middle of the school property, built behind the current school buildings so that students won’t be displaced from campus while construction is ongoing.
“One of our values the whole time has been presence — the importance of this being a neighborhood school and the physical plant’s presence on Congress Street…We’re still trying to work things out to where the presence is still strong and the value of that community is still very evident when you pull up, you drive around and you’re on the campus,” Brown said.
Centanni said the goal is to begin initial construction work, like establishing the construction zone and assessing the existing drainage infrastructure, in summer 2022, with major construction to follow in summer 2023.
The aim is to have the building completed by spring 2025, working off a roughly 18-month construction timeline, he said.
Around 100 parents, teachers and community members shot their hands into the air to question the plan at Tuesday’s town hall: How well will the new school serve special needs students and those in need of mobility aids? How will traffic be impacted? How safe will the new building be? How intrusive will the construction noise be for teachers and students?
A major proposed change was the loss of the existing baseball and softball fields, first to construction support needs and later to additional student parking and a multi-use practice field, a facet met with frustration and resistance from parents and students invested in the sports.
Crozier said the fields were targeted for use because of their proximity to the construction zone and planned entry points for crews and equipment, where a lay down yard is needed to store on-site tools, equipment and materials.
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Centanni added that planners had to consider the cost of replacement; when parents called out the still-pictured football field, the board member noted the higher expected cost of replacing the football field, track and the supporting infrastructure if it was removed.
Brian Biddick’s son Dylan, a junior, has committed to play college baseball for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Biddick said he worried about the stress the students would shoulder with their facilities gone and plans for next year’s season up in the air. He also bemoaned the loss of facilities parents have spent years fundraising to improve and support.
“Is it important? It’ll make me feel better when I go to sleep at night, and when I talk to my son about it, to hear you say it’s important,” Biddick said to the district representatives.
Elizabeth Grossie’s daughter is a senior on the LHS softball team who’s received college scholarship offers because of the sport, she said. Grossie expressed concern that moving the sport off campus will reduce future opportunities for female students.
“She’s going to be able to go wherever she wants for college. That is not because of academics, that is because of athletics. Athletics is equally important as academics, all day every day…I’m tired of women losing opportunities, especially on a school campus,” Grossie said.
LHS’s baseball coach Sam Taulli, who worked with the steering committee, and softball coach Chris Ortego pitched in with their own concerns.
Ortego said there’s real danger that moving practices, conditioning and home games to off-site locations will reduce opportunities for players who already struggle with transportation, and drive those students, most of whom are in the academy program, to remain at their zoned schools because of the undue burden that will be placed on parents and students if transportation support isn’t worked out for players.
Taulli raised concerns about scheduling for next season, a routine that will begin in a few months after this season wraps up.
Centanni cautioned that a lot of the particulars still need to be worked out and the answers won’t be available overnight. Figuring out the school building plan was step one, he said.
“We’re not as far along in the athletic process as we’d like to be, but we had to figure out how to build a 280,000 square foot school. There’s just some real limitations to the site, when we’re trying to put a school that large on it while still maintaining capacity to have the kids come to school every day,” he said.
Centanni and District 8 board member Hannah Smith Mason, a Lafayette High graduate, said a next step in the planning process is to convene a steering committee around athletic issues on campus. They’ll discuss the repercussions of the new campus footprint and what alternate plans will need to be made for baseball and softball, if those fields are lost as planned.
“I’m committed to trying to find a resolution that works for everyone. It’s not going to be perfect, as you can well see, but we’re going to find a way to get through this because it’s important,” Centanni said.
“I played here and I played in college and I know that athletics are important. This is a priority for me and I’m going to make sure that we have somewhere to play,” Mason said.
Space in the new, over 273,000 square foot school building would be broken out by the following priorities:
- 30% of the space for academic neighborhoods
- 19% for performing and fine arts
- 15% for PE and athletics
- 11% for career and technology
- 7% for food service
- 6% for administrative space
- 4% for a media center
- 4% for special education
- 4% for support needs