The Calcasieu Parish School Board on Tuesday voted to use existing sales tax revenue to pay for a new boys’ gym and band room at Sam Houston High School and hire an architect to design a three-phase plan to renovate Gillis Elementary.

The gym, built in 1961 for fewer than 300 students, survived a fire that destroyed the rest of the school in 1982, but “probably should have burned, too,” said board member John Duhon. 

The gym lacks bleachers, has deteriorating locker rooms and is inadequate for the 1,200 students who use it, Duhon said.

“It is the oldest school building in Moss Bluff,” he said. “I visited the school on several occasions and they’re on top of each other, they don’t have equipment, they don’t have lockers.”

Duhon said the band room has seen better days. “The band is right next to the office and every time the band practices,” he said, “they can’t hear in the office.” 

Duhon said the old gym will be demolished and a new gym built on the same site, with an adjoining band room. The board also voted to buy 25 new musical instruments for Sam Houston.  

The board on Tuesday also laid the groundwork to put five propositions on the Nov. 18 ballot for playgrounds, campus improvements and equipment purchases in Districts 23, 31, 33 and 34.

Voters in District 23 will be asked to approve a bond sale of $56.3 million for improvements at Maplewood, Western Heights and Westwood elementary schools; Maplewood and S.P. Arnett middle schools; and Westlake High. The board would also buy five properties north of S.P. Arnett and have authorized option agreements on the properties for $1,000 each. 

District 31 voters will be asked to approve a bond sale of $46 million to improve Combre-Fondel, J.D. Clifton, J.J. Johnson, Pearl Watson and Ralph Wilson elementary schools; Ray D. Molo Middle; Washington-Marion High; and Brenda Hunter Head Start.

Voters in District 33 will be asked to approve a bond sale of $50.8 million for improvements at Fairview, Brentwood, Henry Heights, M.J. Kaufman, John F. Kennedy, Oak Park and T.H. Watkins; F.K. White and Oak Park middle schools; and LaGrange High. 

Voters in District 34 will be asked to approve two bond sales. One is for $41.8 million for improvements at Barbe, College Oaks, Dolby, Nelson, Prien Lake and St. John; S.J. Welsh Middle; and Barbe High. The second is a proposition for a ninth-grade complex at Barbe with a $23.1 million bond sale.

Board member Aaron Natali asked the panel to consider using riverboat funds to buy 40 acres in the Gillis area for a future new school. 

“That area is growing, so why not acquire the property now?” he said. “Land doesn’t depreciate; typically it always appreciates. Worst-case scenario, we buy the property, we don’t build anything, but we have an appreciable asset.”

Duhon said the land is across the street from a development where 700-plus homes are being constructed. “You’re talking about a very valuable piece of land that we would get bargain price on,” he said.

That proposal will be discussed at a later board meeting.

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