The Calcasieu Parish School Board voted to table discussion on a controversial agenda item regarding campus improvements at Sam Houston High School and Gillis Elementary School. A proposed capital project expenditure to install a turf football field and new concession stand at the high school was met with opposition by community members frustrated by poor structural conditions at the elementary school.
Citing rats, flooding and poorly secured portal buildings, Mary Ezell, a parent and public school teacher, questioned whether board members would consider sending their own children to the elementary school. "It seems the board has forgotten a school on Topsy Road," she said. "It's got unmatched staff but an embarrassing facility."
Laurie Trahan, Parent Teacher Organization president at Gillis, said the consideration of athletic upgrades at the high school over facility improvements at the elementary school "completely blows my mind." She said the open walkways, outdoor restrooms and chain linked fence create a risky safety environment for the campus.
"The world we live in is not safe anymore…We need to be enclosed. We need to protect these students. They are the youngest and most vulnerable learners."
Chad Paulk, head football coach at Sam Houston, spoke in favor of the expenditures. Though he was "not against Gillis," Paulk said the new turf would ultimately "benefit everybody from Gillis."
While he sympathized with Gillis' woes, he said their problems are not unique. "We flood too. We've picked up rats. It's going to happen."
Overall, however, the new athletic features will prove beneficial to everyone, he said. "It is going to change your whole program. It's going to change your whole community."
John Duhon, district 15, defended the motion stating that many of Gillis' issues have been resolved including improved drainage, a new multi-purpose room, canopies, a stacking road and additional parking. "To say we haven't done anything is not accurate. We have done lots of things."
Though absent from Tuesday's agenda, he said his plans also include a 16-classroom pod to be constructed at the elementary school to replace the run-down metal buildings. "Am I going to stop spending money on Gillis? No, we're going to continue fixing up Gillis," he said.
Aaron Natali, Fred Hardy and Alvin Smith, board members for the Moss Bluff area, expressed their mutual hesitation at the expenditure, citing a need for a long-term master plan that includes the facilities at the elementary school. Duhon moved to table the discussion for a later date and Hardy seconded the motion.