School Board members make final visit to Cloutierville School

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Lee Waskom, left, points out asbestos-laden construction materials in the building’s attic to Emile Metoyer, back, and Russ Danzy. Photos by Nathan Wilson

Nathan Wilson | Reporter
Five members of the Natchitoches Parish School Board met with staff at the site of the Cloutierville School building to assess their best path forward.
School Board members Emile Metoyer, Billy Benefield, Beverly Broadway, Board Committee Finance Chair Russell Danzy and Board Vice-President Stephen Harris met with district employees led by Finance Director Lee Waskom and Maintenance Director Ryan Shirley to tour the site. During the visit, members assessed the cumulative damage and deterioration to the property from the four years it has lain vacant.
In the school’s gym, Waskom noted the direction of the beams running along the ceiling would provide adequate support to the roof following removal of the rest of the school’s structure. Still pointing upward, he delivered some positive news to assembled board members: further inspection had revealed the gym is free of asbestos so there is no need for abatement in this portion of the building. He also suggested leaving the locker rooms flanking the gym in place for potential use by a new owner.
On the negative side, portions of the gym’s floor show evidence of deterioration from heat and moisture. Waskom indicated the problem has become noticeably worse since his last visit months before. While the gym may be salvageable, the school board is also unsure of public interest in obtaining the gym and other remaining property following the demolition process.
Board members explored the state of the rest of the site and eventually made their way to three portable buildings connected to the rest of the school by a breezeway. The red, metal buildings won’t be demolished, but board members discussed whether to leave them on-site or move them to another school.
Since the board has authorized demolition of most of the building, the preserved structures will need to be appraised independently. Once this value is established, they may sell the gym and portable buildings through a sealed bid process. The winning bid is required to offer at least 85% of the building’s assessed value. If no bids meet this threshold, the property may be subject to a second round of bidding with a threshold of 80%. If no bidders meet the minimum amount during the second round, the school board may call for a third round of bidding with no minimum value requirement.
The board previously received a proposal to purchase the entire building for a nominal fee, but rejected the offer because the building’s fair market value had not been established with an appraisal. The ability for public entities to donate property is heavily restricted in Louisiana and the sale of public property below its appraised value is considered a form of donation. Beyond their concerns over asbestos and the lack of appraisal, many of the board’s members had expressed skepticism over whether the private buyer could afford to purchase the building and complete the renovations the building would need.

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As the tour of the building wound down, Metoyer and Benefield each revealed their connection to the school and to the community it once served. Both had voted against demolishing the school building.
Metoyer counts residents of Cloutierville among his constituents although he attended St. Matthew’s School further north. “They closed St. Matthew’s in ’92,” he recalls. He makes it clear he believes Cloutierville school’s abrupt closure four years ago was politically motivated. “The superintendent wanted to close it. He thought he could close the school and I wouldn’t have won the election, because I was giving him so much hell,” he says.

Benefield was raised in Cloutierville. His father served as principal at Cloutierville School a generation ago, and his wife was the school’s final principal when it closed in 2018. As he tours the site he alternates between sentimental and pragmatic. One moment, he recalls chasing baseballs into the fields surrounding the school. In the next, he’s contemplating the building’s future. He questions whether it’s wise even to preserve the gym without a guaranteed buyer. “My concern is we’re spending a tremendous amount of money to do, what at the end of the day.” he says. “I do know it’s a deduct from the work order not to demolish the gym, but it’s also going to be some work to preserve it too.”
In their next board meeting June 16, members will vote either to accept change orders being prepared by Bayou Rapides Corporation for preserving the gym and portable buildings or to demolish the entire site as the company originally quoted in its bid. In evaluating their options, board members will need to determine if conducting preservation activities is worth any additional costs the district will incur.