Madison Parish breaks ground for school|[05/21/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 21, 2008

TALLULAH – Following speeches filled with such words as “overdue” and “long-awaited,” Madison Parish officials broke ground Tuesday at the site of a Madison Parish high school and middle school.

“This is well overdue to the people of Madison Parish,” Tallulah Mayor Eddie Beckwith told about 60 people at the groundbreaking ceremony. “Our goal for a long time had been to build a new school. We were handed set back after set back, but we worked hand-in-hand, and now we have achieved that goal.”

The new, consolidated school off Old Highway 65 near Interstate 20 on the west edge of Tallulah will be a 180,000-square-foot building and is expected to house about 1,200 students grades 6-12 now attending McCall and Tallulah high schools and McCall and Tallulah junior high schools.

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Tallulah Academy, a private K-12 facility in Richmond, is the only other school in the parish of about 12,000 residents.

In addition to the building, which will include two gymnasiums, an agriculture science and vocational-technical facility and “the most up-to date safety features and technology” in its 42 classrooms, construction plans call for a new football field and track and two football practice fields.

The project is expected to be completed in August 2009 and is estimated to cost $26 million. In charge of designing and constructing the facility is Fauntleroy and Latham Architects Inc., based in Covington, La.

Beckwith said an educational facility hasn’t been built in Madison Parish since 1967.

“It was definitely time,” he said. “This was a much-needed step in improving the education of young people in Madison Parish and also attracting teachers to the school district.”

The project got off the ground in November 2004 when the Madison Parish School Board called for a tax election to finance a consolidated high school. Voters were asked to approve an $18.5 million bond issue and a 1-cent sales tax increase that would expire after 25 years.

The election resulted with 60 percent of Madison Parish voters in favor.

In 1999 and 2002, tax elections to build a new school and boost faculty salaries had failed.

After the 2004 vote, progress continued to move slowly, said Thomas Joe Williams, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee. The committee was appointed by the school district to research and assess the community’s needs for the new school.

According to Williams, the community embarked on the endeavor without a hired consultant, which he said was in order to save money, but caused the planning process to take longer. Williams said choosing land for the school was a slow-moving process. Six locations were considered.

“It took a while for us to find out where we were going to get the best land for our dollar,” he said.

In a closing statement to the crowd at Tuesday’s ceremony, Madison Parish School District Superintendent Samuel Dixon thanked the community for patience, persistence and contributions to Madison Parish’s youth.

“It’s all about these students,” Dixon said.” It’s not about Superintendent Dixon, it’s not about the building, it’s not about anything else. It’s all about the students, and you all have done a great deal for their futures.”