School Board taking bids for parishwide broadband service

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By Times Staff

The Natchitoches Parish School Board will have $36 million in federal COVID stimulus funding and possibly another $5 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to spend on storm damage to facilities experienced this past school year.

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Lee Waskom, Business Affairs Manager for the NPSB, spoke to the Agitators this week and said one of the top priorities is to address broadband services in the parish. “One of the things we are allowed to do is use several million dollars to develop broadband,” he said. The School Board received approximately, $10.4 million that allows some funds to be used for broadband service.

“The school board is concerned about putting it in where the students are out in Ashland, Goldonna and Cloutierville. There is no high speed internet in Goldonna and Cloutierville,” according to Waskom.

“The interesting thing is, we have a main trunk line going straight to our school in Goldonna. We can actually tee off that and light up, so to speak, all of Goldonna for around $440,000,” he added. “That is the estimate.” He added it could then it would be privately managed. Waskom added, “We have a bid that went out this week for a vendor to put all this in line, in the ground. We are going with high speed fiber optics.”

“At project completion, a Fiber to Home Gigabit Passive Optical Network will be the means that high-speed internet is accessed by it’s users.” The Broadband Bid Provider bids are due June 15. According to the bid, “The intent of this project is to provide schoolteachers, school administrators, and children under 18 years of age who live within the boundaries of Natchitoches Parish with high-speed internet access.”

Waskon said hopefully in September they can be putting in broadband. “That’s a big deal,“ he added. “Having the infrastructure of broadband means that some people can work from home much better.” Waskom said they would be spending some COVID money on iPads for the school system.

“We are all going to iPads, which is why it’s so important to get broadband out in the district.” Waskom concluded, ”You can do a lot from home as we’ve learned from Zoom. I think we are going to see more and more of that.”

Speaking about the past year, Waskom told the Agitators, “COVID overlaid with two historic storms this past year impacted all 12 of our campuses in the parish.” He said, “If you’ve ever dealt with FEMA, you know it’s a slow process. We still haven’t been paid anything yet from the August storm and we still have the winter storm to work on. Waskom estimated that’s between $3-$5 million worth of work to be done. In addition, he said the school board has received roughly $36 million in stimulus monies. Some of that though is very restrictive.”