Negotiations to rehome CPSB central office in Southern Designs building under way

Published 3:10 pm Friday, January 26, 2024

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misidentified the owner of the Concordia Parish School Board central office building. We regret the error and are happy to set the record straight.

VIDALIA, La. — Concordia Parish School Board is negotiating a lease-purchase agreement for the former Southern Designs building at 4894 U.S. 84 in Vidalia to house a new central office.

The school board and central office employees have been displaced since September 2022, when a decision was made to vacate the existing central office building on Carter Street due to a mold issue.

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The Southern Designs facility has nine office spaces that would be move-in ready as soon as an agreement is reached and internet and phone lines are wired, school board officials said during their Thursday meeting.

Southern Designs CEO Tance Hughes announced his company was going out of business in 2023 after a 15-year run.

The owners’ offer includes a $3,600 per month lease option to credit toward a $1.8 million purchase price.

A second option briefly discussed Thursday was to temporarily lease office space in downtown Vidalia adjacent to the Concordia Parish Library. The building has 10 offices inside would cost $1,600 per month.

“It’s not the prettiest inside but it does have doors,” Superintendent Toyua Bachus told the school board Thursday.

Bachus said that a decision needed to be made on where to move central office employees sooner rather than later, one of the reasons being so that human resource matters could be discussed privately.

The board tabled the second option for the new office space for further discussion at its next meeting after permitting Bachus, the finance department and attorneys to proceed with a building inspection and lease-purchase negotiations for the Southern Designs property.

That motion was made by Matt Taunton and seconded by Wayne Wilson before it passed by a vote of 7-2 with Derrick Carson and vice-president Fred Butcher voting nay.

“If we do this, we’re committing to purchase a $1.8 million property,” Carson said. “We have other things we need to deal with … obligating ourselves to anything is going to be a problem for this board.”

In contrast, Wilson said the board needed to act if it wanted to purchase the property.

“That is eight acres of prime real estate sitting out there that we need to make a decision on,” he said.

Meanwhile, the board’s lease for the current central office building is now the topic of legal discussion.

The school board has invested over $85,000 in the current central office to remediate the mold issue while in the process of looking for a new building.

The office, which is located on Carter Street directly across the highway from Vidalia City Hall, is leased for $2,500 a month. The lease expires in August 2026, but states the school board is responsible for maintaining the building and that it must be restored to the condition it was in when the school board moved in — which was over 23 years ago.

“This is not a lease I would’ve done for myself or any client of mine,” Carson said in a previous board meeting. “It says we’re responsible for everything.”

The board entered into an executive session at 6:40 p.m. to discuss two items. Executive sessions are not open to the public or the media.

The first item on the agenda for the executive session was the “current central office lease and legal issues” in accordance with La. R.S. 42:17(A)(10) and La. Code of Evidence Article 506, which is the exception to open meetings law and attorney-client privilege.

The second item involved legal strategy or action regarding Smith, et. al. v. Concordia Parish School Board, et. al., Civil Action No. 65-11566 on the docket of the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. This suit concerns using students’ race as a factor in Delta Charter School’s enrollment process per the existing desegregation plan governing Concordia Parish schools.

At 8:25 p.m., the board returned from the executive session and immediately adjourned without further discussion or action.