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Modifications being made to Harper Elementary for upcoming school year

by Minden Press-Herald

With the Webster Parish School Board moving forward with a plan for J.E. Harper Elementary, a few modifications will be made this upcoming school year in hopes to further alleviate problems that have plagued the school since consolidation.

Harper principal Janene Ashley says a few measures are being taken to address ongoing issues at the school.

“As far as the noise level, I’ve encouraged my teachers to teach their group lessons on outside walls so they aren’t teaching back to back, because it does get noisy,” she said. “We’ve taken some actions to make the best of what might not be an ideal situation.”

Ashley says some kindergarten classes will be moved to the ground level at the request of the fire marshal.
In the case of a crisis, students on the lower level will be moved outside through the cafeteria which opens to the outside while students on the upper level will move out the front door of the building.

Ashley says she’s glad to know there is finally a plan to move forward.

“I’m pleased that they are talking about the issues that we have and that there’s a plan,” she said, “and my teachers know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We have crisis plans, we have fire drills, and we’re going to just keep on doing what we’ve always done to make this a safe environment for our students.”

While the building does not technically meet fire code standards for the housed age group, the school has been “grandfathered in” as the board moves forward with implementing the steps to move kindergarten and first grade classes to a new location.

A public records request was made to the school board and the Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office in regards to paperwork or a letter that states the building does not meet fire code for the age group that’s housed there. However, the last inspection date on reports issued by the state fire marshal’s office in January shows the building meets all requirements.

Rawls says if there is a letter stating any deficiencies on file, it will be provided. As of press time, a request for the letter made on July 21 had not been met.

In June, the school board voted in favor of building a wing on to Webster Junior High School and moving the sixth grade students there, and constructing a wing on to J.A. Phillips Middle School and moving the Harper students there.

“The issue is if you do any kind of work on a building it’s got to meet the new codes,” Rawls said. “If you try to do anything to renovate, it’s got to meet new codes. And while you’re doing that, you have to take the kids out of the building.”

Any major construction dictates that the structure must meet current building codes, Rawls said.

The problem is when consolidation took place, students were moved around seemingly without consideration of meeting building code requirements, Rawls said. At a previous inspection, the school site was “grandfathered in” because the kids were already there, he says.
“I don’t know if that was a verbal acceptance or a letter acceptance,” he said.

At the July 13 special meeting, Yeager, Watson and Associates Inc. was chosen as the architect for the project selected. According to estimates given to the school board, the total cost of the project will be roughly $6 million.
Construction of a new wing at Phillips for kindergarten students will cost roughly $2.4 million, with restroom renovations for the appropriate age group set at about $50,000.

A wing for the sixth grade students at Webster Junior High will cost roughly $2.4 million.

Related costs include furniture and equipment at $150,000, technology at $90,000, fees and associated bond election costs at $500,000 and contingency allowance at $500,000, totaling roughly $1.2 million.

Part of the cost of construction will be paid for through District 6 sales tax funds while the remaining costs would have to be paid for through a bond issue extension. The bond extension is expected to be on the November ballot.

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