Architect Steve Oubre has been sharpening his pencil. “We have real numbers now,” he says, tapping his eraser on the 20-pound stack of paper that represents plans for the phase-two theatre that will complete the Acadiana Center for the Arts’ facility. Last November, when the plans went out for bid, the ACA had $8.6 million in state funds budgeted for construction. The lowest bid came back at a shocking $12.8 million topped by a $13.4 million high bid — prices blamed on a booming international construction industry that has driven up the cost of steel, concrete and copper. Labor is at a premium as well due to frenetic rebuilding in south Louisiana following hurricanes Rita and Katrina.
Oubre went back to the drawing board with ACA staff to look at theatre design changes to cut costs. Nobody wanted to risk the quality of the acoustics in the multi-purpose performing arts theatre. Rather than compromise the silent air conditioning system — an essential for acoustic music and spoken word performances — then-AAC Director Buddy Palmer, directed by his planning committee, went back to the state to ask for additional funds. Those funds, $5.8 million, are listed as a Priority 5 item in the state’s capital outlay budget for this year’s legislative session. Priority 5 is the catch-all for construction projects; legislators can lodge feel-good ideas that may never make it beyond the pipe dream stage in Priority 5, as well as fully designed plans ready to go out for bid.
According to Lafayette Sen. and Finance Committee Chairman Mike Michot, the art center’s original $8.6 million is reserved in Priority 1 in cash, and combined with additional money in Priority 5, it’s exactly where the ACA wants to be. “The way the capital outlay process works is kind of squirrely,” he says. Since the original plans for the theatre have already been approved and funded by the state, and with $8.6 million already in the bank, the ACA can go out for bid with the revised plans. If the bids are acceptable this time, they can begin construction. The $5.8 million in Priority 5 is called “following money,” and once it’s approved by the Legislature, it works as a kind of I.O.U. — the ACA can sign contracts based on what is essentially state credit. By the time the $8.6 million is spent, the additional $5.8 million will be converted into cash to keep the project on line.
Michot, along with Barry Hickman, the state Office of Facility Planning and Control architect who reviewed the revised plans, and Lafayette city engineer Larry Broussard, who is managing the project for the ACA and the city, are confident that the state funding will flow as planned. “The project is approved,” Michot says. “It is going forward.”
The only variables are the bids themselves — and Oubre says he learned from previous mistakes. “We accommodated the costs, that’s the first thing,” he says. The second is designing in architectural alternates that don’t affect the acoustics. “We changed a window system. We changed the floors. The numbers we have now are within budget,” he continues. “We’re being very conservative.” If the last bid round of $12.5 million is an accurate reflection of what this year’s process will bring, the theatre will be covered by a total of $14 million. That leaves a $1 million cushion to reintroduce architectural details, like stone floors.
Now five years in planning, the state-of-the-art theatre will host events by PASA, the Acadiana Symphony, Louisiana Crossroads, Louisiana Folk Roots and other community and touring troupes. Oubre and newly appointed ACA Executive Director Gerd Wuestemann say the plans will go out for bid in late July, and the theatre could break ground as soon as November. With a 16-month construction schedule, the theatre could open as early as March 2010. “Once it’s in place, I think people will see how needed it is,” says Wuestemann. “We plan to build one of the finest facilities in the world.”
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Episcopal School of Acadiana’s Dr. Joshua Caffery, chair of the school’s English Department, is headed to Washington, D.C., and the Library of Congress as the latest winner of the Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife Studies.