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Baton Rouge College’s opening up in the air

BATON ROUGE, La. — State officials want to delay the court-ordered
deadline for opening a new community college so they can locate the
campus on what is now Louisiana State Police headquarters.

State police plan to start vacating the 35-acre site here in 1998,
and hope to relocate the last of their headquarters from the proposed
campus site in the year 2000.

However, a 1994 higher education desegregation settlement between
the state and the U.S. Justice Department requires a community college
to open in Baton Rouge by fall of 1997.

Any delay in the deadline for opening the community college must be
approved by U.S. District Judge Charles Schwartz, who is overseeing the
higher education desegregation settlement.

Louisiana State Commissioner of Administration Mark Drennen, who
emerged as the driving force last fall in efforts to transform state
police headquarters into a community college, said he’s confident there
will be no problem in getting Judge Schwartz to sign off on the delay.

“I guarantee the judge won’t have trouble with this one — I guarantee it,” Drennen said.

Drennen was instrumental last fall in nixing efforts to locate the
new college in an empty 108,000 square foot office building on 6.8
acres on Lobdell Avenue.

Even though three state higher education boards and the state
legislature has all signed off on plans to spend $6.5 million to
purchased and renovate the dilapidated building, Drennen put the
project on hold due to concerns about possible structural deficiencies
in the building.

After inspecting the building with state architects, Drennen claimed renovations could have easily hit the $12 million mark.

Not only did the roof leak, but Drennen said he could actually feel
the structure shake while walking at certain areas on the third floor.

Even if the building were renovated, Drennen said the proposed site
would have been a poor one because of traffic and crime problems in the

As commissioner of administration, Drennen controls the purse
strings for the community college because he determines when the
projects is submitted to the state Bond Commission for financing. It’s
also Drennen’s responsibility to oversee state construction projects
and leases.

Drennen said his decision to convert the Louisiana State Police
site will actually mean less of a delay for the opening of the
community college than the Lobdell site.

“That projects on Lobdell [Avenue], with a $12 million renovation,
meant they wouldn’t have been able to get in there until 1999 — were
going to get them into the State Police site in 1998,” Drennen said.

In addition to the thirty-five acre state police site, there is an
additional ten acres of state-owned land that now houses the Louisiana
State Fire Marshall that could be used to expand the college campus in
the future, Drennen said.

Under the desegregation settlement, the community college is
supposed to help serve as a racial mixing tool in a city currently
served by predominantly white Louisiana State University and
historically Black Southern University.

Both universities are charged with overseeing the creation of the
new community college and have already hired a chancellor and staff for
the school.

Last fall, Baton Rouge Community College Chancellor Marion
Bonaparte had toyed with the idea of temporarily housing the new campus
at a local high school when Drennen began expressing reservations about
the Lobdell site.

Bonaparte said those plans have been placed on hold in hopes that
Judge Schwartz will delay the deadline for opening the new community
college until the fall of 1998. A hearing could be scheduled this month.

In the meantime, Drennen’s staff is planning to move ahead with a
$2.33-million renovation of one building on the state police site that
is the minimum needed to accommodate the expected initial community
college enrollment of 700 students.

In February, the state received 12 proposals from architectural
firms to help to convert the Office of Motor Vehicles Building on the
state police site into an educational building with classrooms,
laboratories, faculty and administrative offices, conference rooms, a
library and a bookstore.

But before any work can begin on the community college’s initial
building, other accommodations must be found for state workers now
housed in the Office of Motor Vehicles.

Col. W. R. “Rut” Whittington, superintendent of Louisiana State
Police, said temporary quarters must be found for the Office of Motor
Vehicles workers until a permanent facility can be built.

In addition, Whittington said it’s important for work to begin on
the new state police headquarters because enrollment at the new
community colleges is expected to swell to 2,800 by its third year.

“It’s got to be nailed down because once the state enters into an
agreement with the federal judge, then we’ve got to live up to any
commitment that we make,” Whittington said.

In addition to the renovation project, plans call for the hiring of
second architect to develop a long-range master plan for the community
college, Bonaparte said.

Meanwhile, an associate of arts degree in liberal arts is being
developed by faculty from LSU and Southern University, under guidance
by Baton Rouge Community College Dean of Academic Affairs Ann Britt.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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