Fifth Ward residents, (from left) Nathan Bordelon, Clyde Lamartiniere, Katherine Negrotto and Diana Bonnette, discuss the Fifth Ward Volunteer Fire Department’s plans to purchase the former Fifth Ward High School property to become a training and community center. The group met with District Attorney Charles Riddle on Friday to discuss the plan. The School Board is expected to obtain a new, more detailed appraisal on the property. {Photo by Raymond L. Daye}

Fifth Ward School campus could become community center

VFD would use it for training, education, recreation, public events

Another former school could become a community center -- if the price is right.

Representatives of the Fifth Ward Volunteer Fire Department asked the Avoyelles School Board Building & Lands Committee to re-appraise the closed Fifth Ward High School to make it more possible for the community organization to purchase it.

The committee recommended the School Board approve conducting a new appraisal and to add the cost to the overall purchase price if the fire department chooses to purchase the property.

An appraisal earlier this year put the property’s value at $371,000.

The fire department request notes that the appraiser did not inspect the interior of the buildings, which has damage that could reduce the overall value of the property and would increase the cost to the department to make it usable as a community center.

Nathan Bordelon, a VFD member who attended the committee meeting, said the effort to purchase the closed school “is being done under the umbrella of the fire department so it will be eligible to be considered a government-to-government transaction.”

Bordelon said a private individual, company or non-profit organization would have to pay the full price for the property. As a government entity, “we can use in-kind services to reduce the purchase price.”

Those in-kind services would include providing educational programs and activities for area youth, he noted.

LIKE BORDELONVILLE

“It would be like what they did in Bordelonville,” Bordelon said. “The Volunteer Fire Department would use it for training classes and it would be a community activity center.”

Bordelon said the only options other than the VFD taking the lead would have been to incorporate Fifth Ward as a municipality and proceed with the purchase in the name of the new town or to create a non-profit organization that would lead the effort to purchase and establish the center.

“The other two options would take a lot of time,” he said. “The easiest and best way to get it done is under the fire department umbrella.”

The Bordelonville VFD purchased the court-closed Bordelonville High School property a few years ago and converted it into a training and community center.

The Village of Hessmer purchased part of the court-closed Hessmer High School campus, including the ballpark, and leases the gym under an intergovernmental agreement.

The only building on the former school campus that the village did not purchase or does not lease from the School Board is the elementary classroom wing, which houses the Avoyelles Virtual Alternative Program (AVAP), an online school for expelled and long-term suspended students.

The Town of Simmesport is leasing the former Simmesport Elementary School under an intergovernmental agreement and is remodeling it to become a community center that will house several educational, recreational and work preparation programs.

There has also been interest shown by two groups in purchasing parts of the former Bunkie Middle School property.

The former Mansura High/Middle School campus is one site being considered for the proposed Red River Charter Academy, should the School Board or state Board of Elementary & Secondary Education approve the new school to open.

GFME OFFER REJECTED

This current interest follows Gauntlet Film & Media Entertainment’s $320,000 offer for the 8.5-acre campus. The Houston-based company had intended to open a film/production studio at the site. That offer was rejected after community residents objected to the sale because they believed the company produced pornographic films.

GFME owner Wendell King said he was insulted and angered by the untrue accusations and was sad the School Board did not accept his offer. He said GFME is in the process of acquiring another property in Louisiana for the studio.

Bordelon said the center would not be just for Fifth Ward residents, but would be open to anyone in the parish. It would be focused on the Fifth Ward, Belledeau, Echo, Moncla, Hickory Hill and Ward 1 areas, and even nearby neighboring areas such as Poland.

“We want to give the youth in this parish a place to go and things to do, especially in the summer,” Bordelon said. “We plan to offer sports like baseball, softball, basketball, soccer and volleyball.

In addition, we will have educational programs, after-school tutoring, life skills courses, work training programs.

“We will have activities for senior citizens as well,” he continued. “It will be for everyone.”

Bordelon said the gym is in good shape. The main school building is structurally sound but has been vandalized and will take some time and money to repair.

If the finances make the purchase feasible, it would probably take about a year to have the center ready for its first event, Bordelon said.

“As soon as we get the new appraisal, we will hold a large meeting in the gym for residents of all of the communities and discuss what we should do,” he said.

NEW ROOF FOR AVAP

In other business, the committee also recommended the board authorize replacing the roof on the AVAP building in Hessmer.

Maintenance Supervisor Steve Marcotte said it would cost about $81,000 to put a pitched metal roof on the building. There are 12 rooms in the building, most of which are used by the AVAP.

The committee noted the project would be paid out of the school district’s Reserve Fund.

All committee recommendations will be presented to the School Board at its Sept. 4 meeting for final approval or rejection.

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