Need for new Patterson school explained at hearing

Faculty members of Patterson Junior High and Hattie Watts Elementary joined with members of the public at a hearing Tuesday in the junior high school gym to hear details of the proposed buildings at each school. The election Oct. 19 to support a property tax will be voted on by residents from the Calumet Cut to Southwest Boulevard in Bayou Vista.
Cary Laiche of Firmin Architects addresses the public at a hearing Tuesday in advance of the Oct. 19 election in which Patterson area voters will decide whether to levy a 15-mill property tax to replace Patterson Junior High and add a multi-purpose building to Hattie Watts Elementary. From left are Hattie Watts Principal Niki Fryou, Superintendent Donald Aguillard, Laiche, Patterson Junior High Principal Suzanne Bergeron and School Board member Marilyn LaSalle.
A public hearing Tuesday was held in the Patterson Junior High School gym. Voters will be asked Oct. 19 to approve a property tax to support $21 million in bonds to be paid over 20 years. The money will be used to demolish and rebuild the junior high school as well as build a multi-purpose facility at Hattie Watts Elementary.
The building is very well tended to and taken care of as best as it can but the building is falling apart and even though maintenance and my custodians do a fabulous job of keeping it up and taking the best care they can, the building materials have past their life.”
By JEAN L. KAESS
A public hearing was held Tuesday in advance of the Oct. 19 election in which Patterson area voters will decide whether to levy a 15-mill property tax to replace Patterson Junior High and add a multi-purpose building to Hattie Watts Elementary.
Residents from the Calumet Cut to Southwest Boulevard in Bayou Vista will be asked to approve the tax to support $21 million in bonds to be paid over 20 years.
A taxpayer with property valued at $100,000 will incur an additional $37.50 in property taxes annually under the plan. Homes under $75,000 are exempt.
The junior high is plagued with interior walls separating from exterior walls, cracks in interior and exterior walls, moisture problems and inadequate flooring. Exterior brick cracking results in water hazards, flooding and insect infestations as well as expensive loss of heating and cooling.
In addition, student population growth has surged in the Patterson community, leaving schools without additional classroom space to access in the event of future expansion.
Patterson Junior High Principal Suzanne Bergeron said, “For many of you, especially the older generation, this is the school you went to so you know it’s been here for a while, and it’s been a part of the community … the building is very well tended to and taken care of as best as it can but the building is falling apart and even though maintenance and my custodians do a fabulous job of keeping it up and taking the best care they can, the building materials have past their life.”
The planned facility will face Catherine Street instead of the current location, which faces First Street.
“The plan we envision would not be possible without the City of Patterson,” Superintendent Donald Aguillard said.
Patterson Mayor Rodney Grogan explained that in the approximately two-acre property exchange between the city and the School Board, the city will receive the current junior high school gym and cafeteria while the school system will receive the street that currently runs through the property.
Grogan said the city will move its summer recreation program and youth athletic programs to the property being acquired, and the old City Hall where they currently are housed will become the new Council on Aging building.
A portion of the existing junior high, the two-story wing, will be renovated at an estimated cost of $1 million, significantly less than the $2 million that would be added to the cost of demolishing and rebuilding it with the rest of the school, LaSalle said.
As for a building timeframe if the tax is passed, Aguillard said the board would get to work immediately to process the bond sales and would start working with architects as soon as possible. He could not give an exact timeframe, but did say he expected the Hattie Watts multi-purpose building to be complete before the junior high school.
Bergeron made her plea for a new school.
“When they travel to other schools and they come back to me and they ask me, ‘Mrs. Bergeron, why can’t we have a gym with a locker room like Berwick Junior High’ or ‘Why can’t we have a playground where we can play or an area where we can go to call our own?’ and a lot of times it’s rough for me to tell them I don’t know why. But this is the time for everybody to come together and say ‘You deserve a new school,’ and our community here needs to embrace that,” Bergeron said.
School Board member Marilyn LaSalle read a prepared statement in School Board member Ginger Griffin’s stead who was delayed by a work obligation.
“When I was first elected to the School Board I attended a mandatory new board member seminar. One of the speakers at the seminar was a former teacher, administrator and a board member. He said that the most important advice he could give to new board members was to always think about what was in the best interest of the children. The decision to come before the voters and ask them to consider a tax to build a new school has not been an easy one. It’s what wakes me at 2 o’clock in the morning. Every day I pray that we make the right decisions. Please know that I understand the burden that we’re asking you to consider,” Griffin said.
Hattie Watts Principal Niki Fryou asked for parents’ help in asking their neighbors to vote for the tax.
LaSalle said there is no Plan B. Passage of the tax and the building of a new school depends on the citizens.
“What happens at the polls is a direct reflection of what you think of your community,” she said.

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