The Livingston Parish School Board elected Ziler Architects, which recently led construction of the new Denham Springs Elementary, to oversee the building of a new middle school in the fast-growing Walker district.
Also in the Jan. 7 meeting, the School Board gave the green light to advertise for bids for the upcoming school.
This is the latest step in the creation of South Fork Junior High, which will be built using funds from Walker’s portion of a second sales tax that has been on the books for several decades.
In October, the School Board passed a resolution allowing $20 million in sales tax bonds to be used for the project. Jason Akers, of Foley & Judell, LLP, said funds from Walker’s portion of the second sales tax “are available to support the debt service that’s anticipated.”
“There’s no election, no additional taxation required to support the bonds,” Akers told School Board members in October.
South Fork Junior High will be built on the same grounds as the South Fork Elementary, which is located on a near 50-acre plot of land off Highway 447 in south Walker. District leaders built South Fork Elementary, which opened in December 2010, with the thought of adding a junior high in the future.
“That school [South Fork Elementary] was always built with the intention of adding a junior high on that site,” Superintendent Joe Murphy said.
School Board President Bo Graham, who represents the Walker district along with Jeff Cox, said South Fork Junior High will replace one of the existing junior high schools in Walker to eventually create more room at Walker High.
Currently, there are three junior high schools in Walker: North Corbin Junior, Westside Junior, and Walker Junior, which took over Walker Freshman High last school year after those students moved to the high school.
This year, Walker High is housing just over 2,000 students in grades 9-12. But that number is expected to exceed 2,200 in the coming years, Graham said.
“We’ve already had to put four [temporary buildings] out there [at Walker High],” Graham said. “And next year, we’re expecting more for [grades] 9-12. I’ve had people ask me, ‘What’s with all those T-buildings at that new school?’ It’s because of the growth.”
The addition of another school on the same grounds as South Fork Elementary will be cost-effective, Cox and Graham said, noting that the two schools will be able to share many of the same amenities, such as a cafeteria. That is similar to operations at North Corbin Elementary and North Corbin Junior High, which are also next door to each other.
“It has worked out really well at North Corbin and saved a lot of money,” Cox said. “With that setup, you don’t have to build and staff and fix up two lunchrooms, and you can use the same equipment.
“That’ll save us a little money, and we already have electricity and sewer tied into that area. Every little bit helps as far as saving money.”
Funds for South Fork Junior High, which the bond commission approved in late 2021, should be available sometime in March, Graham said. The school is expected to be around 80,000 square feet.
When finished, South Fork Junior High would take Walker-area students who live south of Interstate-12, meaning school buses would not have to cross the interstate, as they presently do. Those students currently go to Walker Junior High.
Eventually, the plan would be to combine Walker Junior High and Westside Junior High at the present-day Walker Junior High, Graham said. Once that happens, ninth-graders would then move to where Westside Junior High is currently located, placing the freshman high and high school across the street from each other, similar to Denham Springs High and Denham Springs Freshman High.
“We’re out growing like crazy,” Graham said. “If we had unlimited funds, we could also build a couple of elementary schools. But we’re trying to keep up with the resources we have, so we have to get creative.”
This marks the third major project for the Livingston Parish Public Schools system in the last few years.
Earlier this week, the school system officially opened Denham Springs Elementary, a two-story, 80,000-square-foot campus that replaces the former school that flooded in August 2016. Meanwhile, construction continues on the new Southside “mega campus,” a 150,000-square-foot school that will house both Southside Junior High and Southside Elementary.
District leaders are hopeful that the Southside campus will be finished in time for the 2022-23 school year.