School Board holds brief Special Called meeting, discusses Cloutierville Elementary building

It’s come before the Natchitoches Parish School Board at multiple meetings, but the vacant Cloutierville Elementary facility came up on the agenda again at a May 16 special called meeting. The board voted to reject the current RFP for the sale of the property based on a lack of appraisal.

Instead the board voted to declare Cloutierville building, content and property surplus and to award the winning bid to Bayou Rapids Construction with a base bid of $374,965 for the demolition of Cloutierville school which includes abatement and removal.

Board member Harris made a motion to amend the scope of the demolition to include all of the buildings except for the gym and the external buildings and abate all buildings. The motion passed with the following members voting against it: Metoyer, Bennefield, Garner, Guidroz.

With the change in the scope of the demolition, Finance Director Lee Waskom will go back to the construction company to negotiate and ask for another change order to be presented to the board at the next meeting.

The School Board will be able to sell the 17 acres the facility sits on once the buildings are demolished. The School Board budgeted $400,000 for this process. It cost the School Board $38,000 to hire a consultant to make sure the bidding was done correctly. This consultant will be on site observing the demolition, costing the School Board another $6,000.

Not for the first time, a representative from Kingsom Earth LLC, a third party interested in purchasing the school, came before the board, to “fight” for the school building. She was not in agreement with Waskom’s report that the second floor of the school would have to be removed to rid the building completely of the asbestos. She said her group would like to get a second opinion for abatement alternatives.

“We’ve done a bit of research our own selves. It seems like every time we make an effort, something is a battle or a fight against us,” said Matthis. “I don’t understand why it’s so important to demolish the school when it could be such an asset for my community, for an underserved community. If this building was in another area it might be looked at a little bit differently. Maybe more things would be done or looked at or more possibilities searched to save it, not just tear it down.”

Waskom said he was concerned about the financials included in the group’s proposal. He didn’t see an adequate amount of financing to do what the group’s vision is for the property. The asbestos abatement itself will cost $100,000.

The issue the School Board is concerned with is future liability regarding the asbestos. While abatement will mitigate the risk of liability, the most sure fire way is to demolish and not sell, thus not involving a third party. No one knows the “what ifs” of the legal system or the “what ifs” of 30 or 40 years from now. Hold harmless or “as is” sales do not apply to buildings that contain asbestos.

A legal opinion on the possible sale of the property stated, “Although school boards routinely sell unneeded properties containing asbestos and other hazardous materials “as is,” arguments can be made that the sellers of such buildings remain liable for any injuries later sustained by others due to the presence of the hazardous substances in the buildings. In other words, arguments can be made that, if the School Board sells the building with asbestos, the School Board will retain some liability for individuals who claim they were exposed to asbestos in the building, even after the liability for individuals who claim they were exposed to asbestos in the building, even after the sale.”

Board members expressed their disappointment that the electricity was turned off to the school and that the building was allowed to deteriorate to its current condition without any plan being created through the years to salvage it. Board member McGaskey made a motion to table the vote until the board’s June meeting, letting the current bid expire. If forced to rebid, prices will significantly increase for the next bid due to rising diesel costs. The vote was tied 5-5 since Board member Danzy was absent from the meeting, so the motion failed.

In other business, the board also approved the millage levee for 2022.