$20 million elementary school at Fort Polk part of a larger investment
By Jeff Matthews, The Town Talk
LEESVILLE -- A new elementary school just outside Fort Polk is the latest step toward making the Army base "the best in the country."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal made that claim at the announcement Friday that a new $20 million South Polk Elementary School will be built with mostly federal funds. The school will ease crowding and improve conditions at the two elementary schools that serve the children of Fort Polk families, officials said, and enhance already announced infrastructure improvements in the La. Highway 467 area.
"The bottom line is we know the importance of Fort Polk and that's why we're making these improvements even in tough budget times," Jindal said. "We're continuing to make Fort Polk the best base you can find anywhere in the world."
"A new school will attract families to this area," said Brig. Gen. K.K. Chinn, commanding general of the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk. "That, in turn will attract development and business. The quality of life for everyone -- civilian and military -- is going to improve."
The new South Polk Elementary will serve up to 850 children in grades one through four. Most of the students will come from the existing South Polk Elementary. The rest will come from North Polk Elementary and Pickering Elementary, where students have been sent when the two schools serving Fort Polk families reached capacity.
"Both our schools on the post were very crowded, and we had some facility issues at South Polk," Vernon Parish Schools Superintendent Jackie Self said. "This will make North and South Polk the equal of any schools on military installations in America."
The new South Polk Elementary will be built on U.S. Army property on La. 467 (University Parkway) but, unlike the current school, will be outside the gate to the base. It is projected to be ready by January 2015.
Most of the funding -- $16 million -- is coming from a pool of federal money earmarked to replace or upgrade distressed schools serving military installations. The state and the Vernon Parish School District are contributing $1 million each, while the School District is contributing an additional $2 million in construction services.
"Today's announcement is wonderful news for our soldiers and their families," U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. "Fort Polk serves Louisiana and our nation with great distinction -- the children of our soldiers deserve every chance for success, including the best education possible."
The school is going in an area already slated to receive major improvements. Last September, the state announced more than $25 million in new infrastructure along La. 467 and the surrounding area.
That project involves a new road connecting La. 467 and La. Highway 468, and eventually connecting to La. Highway 28. Also part of the project is water and sewer installation on the new road and water and sewer improvements on La. 467.
The added infrastructure, it is hoped, will spur residential and commercial development, much of it aimed at military families.
"(The new school) is the final cobblestone on the long road to developing what will be the new economic development zone in Leesville," Chinn said. "An incredible amount of hard work has gone into the development of that vision."