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Baton Rouge CC opening still on hold; rebel shopping center to be part of desegregated campus


The long-awaited opening of a community college
that will help integrate this city’s higher education community will
have to wait a little longer.

A federal judge, bowing to a request from Louisiana state officials,
has granted a one-year extension for the opening of the proposed Baton
Rouge Community College.

Creating a community college here in the capital city is mandated as
part of a settlement of the desegregation case against Louisiana’s
higher education system. But U.S. District Judge Charles Schwartz
agreed late last month to give the state until the fall of 1998 to open
the school after reviewing recent efforts to assemble a sixty-five-acre
campus in the heart of Baton Rouge.

The centerpiece for the proposed campus is the soon-to-be-vacated
thirty-five-acre Louisiana State Police headquarters, with an adjacent
ten-acre parcel that now houses the state fire marshal’s office but
could be used later to expand the campus.

In addition, state Commissioner of Administration Mark Drennen
announced in May that he had completed a deal to purchase a twenty-acre
shopping center adjacent to the State Police site. Drennen said the
Rebel Shopping Center, which will be purchased at a total cost of $2.8
million over a ten-year period, will serve as the site for the
construction of an initial 50,000-square foot building for a new school.

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 already
have hired a chancellor and staff for the school.

Louisiana Higher Education Commissioner Joseph Savoie, who also is
involved in coordinating the creation of the new campus with the state
Board of Regents, said the formal request for a one-year extension in
the school’s opening was partially prompted by the negotiations to buy
the shopping center. But Savoie said another factor in the delay was
trying to sell the court-appointed monitoring committee on the need for
an extra year.

“They [the committee] made sure we weren’t dragging our feet. They asked some tough questions,” Savoie said.

Once the request was submitted, the judge responded quickly, Savoie
said. And despite Drennen’s confidence that the judge would sign off on
the extension after seeing the state’s progress in assembling a new
campus, Savoie said there was still a chance that Schwartz could have
ordered the community college to hold classes in temporary quarters
until its new building was ready.

In late 1996, Baton Rouge Community College Chancellor Marion
Bonaparte had approached the local school board about using two Baton
Rouge high schools to hold evening courses for the new school, if
necessary. Bonaparte approached the school board after Drennen – who
holds the purse strings for Gov. Mike Foster nixed plans to start up
the Baton Rouge Community College in an empty 108,000-square-foot
office building on a modest 6.8-acre parcel.

Even though three state higher education boards and the Louisiana
Legislature had approved plans to spend $6.5 million to purchase and
renovate the office building, Drennen put the project on hold because
of concerns about possible structural problems with the building. He
also expressed doubts about using the site, which formerly was leased
by the state for an Office of Motor Vehicles outlet, because it “did
not even look like a community college.”

Bonaparte said he’s obviously pleased with the Foster
Administration’s progress in developing a campus, noting that the
original proposal was based on a more gradual approach.

“I think what the [Foster] Administration was concerned about was
that the site that we picked out initially was going to be the
permanent site [for the community college],” Bonaparte said.

That wasn’t necessarily the case, according to Bonaparte, who noted
that the office building could have been used for administrative
purposes or as a satellite center even if a campus was developed later.

Bonaparte said he expects the new school to begin accepting students
for its first class of 700 students next spring. He hopes to move into
the administration building in June 1998, with classes to begin in late
August 1998.

The initial building will contain a library, five computer labs, a
center for academic learning, three science labs, eighteen regular
classrooms, offices for faculty and administrators, and a common area
for students. Drennen has promised the building will be completed on
time, even if it means using double construction shifts.

“We are cookin’ now,” Bonaparte said.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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