TPSB moving forward with plans to build new Southdown Elem.

Terrebonne Parish School Board members are moving ahead with its plans to raise $20 million to rebuild a school.

Officials met with representatives from Standard & Poor’s, a major credit rating company, for preliminary talks on rating the district’s bond sale. The school district plans to sell $20 million in bonds to build a new Southdown Elementary School.

The new school construction was originally estimated to cost around $15 million. Terrebonne school Superintendent Philip Martin said the district is bonding out $20 million to make sure the money raised covers the entire project.

“A lot of this is an inexact science, as I’ve discovered. A lot of it is you must use estimations,” Martin said. “As in most things, you don’t have an exact number, so you must use the information you have available, i.e., recent construction projects in the area, per-square-foot cost, how much did it cost. It at least gives you some measuring stick, albeit not an exact one, but you have a ballpark figure.”

Jerry Osborne, a partner with the Foley & Judell law firm, will assist the district in the bond process, the superintendent said. Osborne has previously helped the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government and Terrebonne Parish Levee and Conservation District sell bonds to pay for projects. Martin said Osborne is optimistic about the TPSD getting a low interest rate on the bonds it sells.

“The interest rate … is going to be very favorable because the interest rate is down. It’s good when you’re selling bonds; it’s not so good when you’re on the other end of it,” Martin said.

According to the superintendent, the school board faced the question of paying for the new Southdown Elementary without taking on additional debt. However, Martin said the school board chose to pay for the school over years rather than using savings funds up front.

“The safest, most responsible way is to keep some reserves for a rainy day,” Martin said.

The school was built in 1951 as a high school for black children during segregation. Since integration in 1969, it has served as an elementary school. Southdown’s myriad infrastructure issues presented renovation costs so high the TPSB decided last year to build a new school altogether.

After this school year ends, contractors will demolish the current Southdown buildings. According to Martin, the Merlin Group is in charge of the new building’s architecture, and the firm is still in the planning stages. He hopes to release plans to the public by mid-summer.

No contractor has been chosen to build the new facility yet, but work is expected to start sometime this summer, according to Martin. While the new school is built, Southdown students will split into two vacant schools for classes. Students in K-3 will head to the old Dularge Elementary School, while 4-6 graders will learn at Greenwood Middle School. Martin said the TPSB has put a conservative two-year timeline on the new Southdown’s construction.

“We’ve done the other two major constructions in about 14 months. But, if you say two years and it happens in 14 months, everybody’s happy, but if you say 14 months and it takes two years, everybody’s not happy,” he said.

The superintendent expressed hope for what the new building would do for the students and the Houma area in general.

“There seems to be a lot of excitement with this project,” he said. “That, in conjunction with the brand-new field behind it, I think is going to revitalize one of the main intersections right in the middle of Houma.” •

Southdown Elementary School, built in 1951, will be demolished following this school year. The Terrebonne Parish School Board is in the process of raising $20 million in bonds to build a new Southdown over the next two years.KARL GOMMEL | THE TIMES