Work begins at new Prairie Elementary School on Rue du Belier in Lafayette
May 12, 2022
By Leigh Guidry, Lafayette Daily Advertiser | PUBLISHED 8:01 a.m. CT May 11, 2022
Up to 900 students could be starting school in a brand-new Prairie Elementary building in August 2023. Sitework began last month on the Rue du Belier property that will feature a 40-classroom school to replace the overcrowded, 55-year-old campus on Ambassador Caffery Parkway.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has been socking away money and building bond capacity for the last several years in an effort to fully replace Prairie as well as Lafayette High School (built in 1952) and Carencro Heights Elementary (built in 1958).
All three projects are in the works, but Prairie is the first to see construction work begin and final drawings issued. Lafayette Parish School Board rep Britt Latiolais said he's impressed with all the state-of-the-art features included in the plans.
"They're putting things into it you didn't put into schools 10 or 15 years ago," he said.
David Hebert, principal architect with the Grace Hebert Curtis firm, gave the public a peek at the design of the school-to-be during the latest board meeting.
What will the new Prairie look like?
A key feature in the new school will be a wide "mall" or corridor that will run the length of the school, splitting it into academic use (40 classrooms for pre-K through fifth grade) and multiuse space.
The separation will provide a bit of a sound buffer from the louder, more active spaces like the band room, cafeteria and media center, while also providing a space for learning intervention. Teachers or speech pathologists could meet there one-on-one or in small groups of students for tutoring or services, Hebert explained in his presentation.
It was something Hebert and his team were mindful about after talking with Prairie Principal Cayce Booher as they toured her current campus and the newest school in the district. Martial F. Billeaud Elementary in Broussard was built in 2019 and has a similar mall space.
"We talked a lot about learning loss from COVID and how we can create spaces that support intervention but still can be leveraged as multiuse spaces over time — not creating a lot of program that's wasteful once kids are brought back up to speed," Hebert said.
The walls of the corridor will feature swaths of bright colors, each one representing a different grade level to help students find their way throughout the school.
The media center, or library, will be open to the corridor on one side, serving as a hub or "living room" to the school, Hebert said. This, too, was purposeful, as the media center is located at the back of the current campus, far from classrooms.
Designed to put 'learning on display'
When students and families enter the new school, they'll be greeted in both French and English, as signage will highlight Prairie's magnet program.
"We wanted to make sure that the second you walked in the door you knew this was a French immersion campus," Hebert said. "Everywhere you're at, it's an opportunity for learning French."
Above the front office window the wall reads "Bienvenue/Welcome," the cafeteria wall sports "aliments/food," and "danse/dance" is one phrase in the multipurpose room, according to the drawings.
"We're really putting learning on display throughout the school," he said.
They've also put thought into the car line situation. They've planned for four lanes of carpool stacking on the south side of the property and a separate entry for buses on the north side.
"So we should have plenty of queue space to keep all the cars of Rue du Belier," Hebert said.
Latiolais said everyone within the Prairie Elementary community is "beyond excited" to see the plans becoming reality." The faculty and staff have waited so long for this," he said. "They built this — their hard work, dedication. They have done so much with so little. Now that they're going to have these tools, it's going to be incredible."
Contact children's issues reporter Leigh Guidry at Lguidry@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.