Southdown Elem. celebrates before demolition

Teachers, families and alumni celebrated last Wednesday the final graduating class of Southdown Elementary, as they know it.

The Houma school held a ceremony in its gym honoring the sixth grade class of 2016 while also looking back at the school’s history one last time. In June, the school will be torn down before the Terrebonne Parish School District builds a new, $20-million Southdown.

The school board approved the sale of more than $20 million in bonds during its May 3 meeting, completing the debt raising process for the new school’s construction. The school district is set to pay off the debt over 20 years, ending in 2036.

The school district took on about $18.3 million in debt with the sale. However, due to the strength of the district’s credit rating, the bond purchasers offered to pay about a $2 million premium on top of the debt purchased, according to Schools Superintendent Philip Martin. After an underwriter’s discount, the school district received about $20.1 million to go toward the Southdown project.

The next step for the project will be the demolition of the current structure, set for June after the school is cleaned out. Construction Management Enterprises of Slidell originally won the contract for the school’s demolition with a $250,000 bid. However, the company did not file its paperwork in the 10 days following and lost the bid. D.H. Griffin of Texas will now handle the demolition for about $325,000. Martin said although the school district is paying an additional $75,000 for the work now, it could come with more peace of mind for school officials.

“If a company can’t do the simple things like turning in a piece of paper, what about when it comes to the hard part? That was creating some concern, so it may be a blessing in disguise,” Martin said.

Martin said the school district does not have a concrete date for the demolition yet, as he is unsure how long the cleaning out process of the current Southdown will take.

“The school’s been there since the 1950s, so it’s a lot of stuff accumulated over those years,” Martin said. “To get all that out will be a while. But, we want to do it ASAP, get that process started as soon as we can.”

The Merlin Group, the architecture firm designing the new building, has provided the school board visual renderings of the new Southdown. According to Martin, the new school will have some elements from its predecessor. Plans are still drafts and subject to change, he said.

“Until you start building the school, things change. A plan is never carved in concrete until it’s built. I don’t anticipate any significant changes, but there will be bunches and bunches between now and the time [school construction] starts,” Martin said.

The Merlin Group has worked on two previous projects for the TPSD. The company designed the H.L. Bourgeois Freshman Center and the raising of Grand Caillou Middle School. According to School Board President Roger “Dale” DeHart, those two projects finished on time and within budget.

Martin said construction on the new school should go to bid in the fall and work to begin shortly thereafter. He said the school district has put a conservative, two-year timeline on the new school’s construction. During the building phase, students will be split into two unoccupied schools. K-3 students will go to the old Dularge Elementary School, and 4-6 students will attend Greenwood Middle School.

The current school’s demolition will end a 65-year run for the building, constructed in 1951 as a high school for black children during segregation. It has been an elementary school following integration in 1969. •

Southdown Elementary