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Architect selection for two $38 million schools in Jefferson Parish prompts questions

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The Jefferson Parish School Board will decide next month which architecture firms it will hire to build two new pre-K through eighth grade campuses as part of a sweeping school reorganization plan approved earlier this month.

At a School Board committee meeting Thursday, Superintendent James Gray’s administration recommended two firms receive the contracts for the new schools, expected to cost $38 million each. 

However, the proposal faced pushback from some board members who questioned the administration’s process for selecting vendors for the lucrative contract.

The district’s Facilities Department recommended Grace Hebert Architects LLC for the new campus at Bunche Elementary and Trapolin-Peer Architects LLC for the new campus at St. Ville Elementary.

Both were selected from a list of architects and engineers previously approved by the board. And because the contracts will be awarded through a professional services agreement, the school system isn’t required to bid them out.

Decisions questioned

Board member Michael Pedalino asked whether the administration had spoken to any other architects about the work. Steve Faust, the district’s executive director of facilities and maintenance, replied that they had not.

“If I were a salesperson for Grace Hebert, I’d be happy right now because there is no competition,” Pedalino said.

Board member Ricky Johnson, whose district includes St. Ville Elementary, wondered why he didn’t get a call from the administration for his thoughts on selecting an architect. He suggested they consider William & Williams Architecture, led by an architect who graduated from St. Ville.

Board member Clay Moise said officials in the Facilities Department should be trusted as experts on the school system’s infrastructure.

“They know the capabilities of the architects and engineers on that list,” Moise said. “I don’t have the expertise to choose an architect.”

Jerome Puyau, the school district’s chief operating officer, said they focused on architects that have experience designing whole schools. Grace Hebert, for instance, built the Dr. John Ochsner Discovery Health Sciences Academy in Old Jefferson. And Trapolin-Peer Architects built Edna Karr High School in New Orleans.

Board President Ralph “Rem” Brandt Jr., who attended the meeting as a member of the public, said Grace Hebert’s website showed designs with “lots of glass, which I’m not a big fan of … It’s not safe.”

“Unless it’s 3 inches thick,” Moise added.

Demolition firms named

The board committee ultimately voted to accept the administration’s recommendations, though they directed the Facilities Department to reach out to other architects and report back before the full board’s regularly scheduled meeting May 3. Pedalino told them to reach out to Lachin Architects as part of that directive.

The committee also approved two other motions to declare six campuses as surplus property and to hire six architects to handle demolition. The architects would each be paid $300,000.

Those architects include Albert Architects for demolition of Butler Elementary; Manning, APC for demolition of Helen Cox High School; N-Y Associates for demolition of Mildred Harris Elementary; Scairono Martinez Architects for demolition of Haynes Academy; Meyer Engineers for demolition of Thomas Jefferson Academy; and Hewitt-Washington & Associates for demolition of Washington Elementary.

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