Bossier’s top stories of 2018 Pt. 1

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Bossier students and community members worshiped together and rallied for student rights during the Freedom Student Summit, held at Bossier Parish Community College. (Amanda Simmons/Press-Tribune)

With the start of a new year, the Bossier Press-Tribune is taking a brief look back to showcase the major news stories of 2018. It was quite an eventful year with controversies, progressive moves, elections and more, all shaping Bossier Parish moving into 2019. You can read a summary of the stories and how they developed as compiled by BPT staff from the past year. Check back tomorrow for part 2.

School board pursues lawsuit over religious expression in schools

The Bossier Parish School Board will have its day in court as the board directed its attorney to fight the lawsuit alleging unconstitutional actions involving the promotion of Christianity.

The board discussed the lawsuit in executive session in September after Americans United for Separation of Church and State on behalf of seven Bossier Parish families filed a lawsuit against the district in February 2018.

The families’ children currently attend or have attended elementary, middle, and high schools within the district since 2015. The lawsuit alleges widespread use of prayer on school property, during school events, in classrooms, at sporting events, at graduation ceremonies, during awards assemblies, and at student government meetings. It also alleges that school officials openly proselytize students in Christianity.

The board said during their vote on Sept. 11 that they cannot come to an agreement and instructed their attorney, Jon Guice, to move forward with the lawsuit.

“Based on our previous efforts to work through this case at this time, we do not believe we can come to an agreement,” said board member Shane Cheatham.

The Bossier Parish School Board previously said in a statement that it would change policies and train all administrators, teachers and coaches in response to the lawsuit. In April, the board approved a nine page document that outlines procedures for both students and school employees and sets guidelines for student speakers at school events, student clubs, and how potential policy violations will be handled.

“We have not changed our position on the policy, we have not changed our position on what the law is, we’ve simply decided that trying to settle this is not going to be fruitful and we’ll ask the judge to make a decision on who’s right or wrong,” said Guice.

“We have a disagreement as to the law,” he added. “The facts are fairly clear…Our policy has a complaint process. If anyone feels as though that policy has been violated, they can certainly call that to our attention.”

The vote came on the heels of controversy over the Benton High School Booster Club removing Christ Fit Gym’s — a Christian, faith-based nonprofit gym in Bossier City — logo from the school’s football field.

The gym filed a restraining order Sept. 7 in state court after Benton High School allegedly told students to remove the gym’s logo, which contained a cross and Bible verse, from the field.

The board’s legal counsel originally advised administration that the logo should be removed pending consultation with the court. The board voted to restore the advertising for Christ Fit Gym on Benton High’s field, effectively immediately.

Students also rallied to legally express their faith with several rallies and events across various movements in the district. These included the Freedom Student Summit, held in early April at Bossier Parish Community College, which brought together hundreds — including students, community members, school officials, church leaders, and politicians — under one roof, standing up for student rights to live out their faith no matter the school or city.

New Barksdale gate off I-20/220 gets approval

A new entry into Barksdale Air Force Base from I-20/220 became a reality in 2018.

A map of the proposed I-20/220 interchange upgrades and Barksdale entrance.

The State Bond Commission approved the request for Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle Bonds, also known as GARVEE Bonds, in April. The plan was previously approved by the Joint Transportation Committee and Joint Budget Committee before going to the State Bond Commission.

The purpose of the proposed improvements is to enhance the operational characteristics and capacity of the interchange in conjunction with the development of a direct access roadway to Barksdale. The proposed project improvements address continuity of access to the interchange for BAFB, operational improvements for vehicular access to BAFB, and reduction in congestion at the existing BAFB access points. 

The approximate cost of the project is about $90 million. The local investment from the City of Bossier City and Bossier Parish is $6 million. The state and local entities will repay the debt using the federal highway funds received each year over the course of 12 years.

The interstate interchange will provide direct access to Barksdale and reduce traffic congestion.

State Department of Transportation and Development Public Information Officer Erin Buchanan said, “The project as it’s proposed will provide new access into Barksdale Air Force Base, and relieve increasingly congested existing entrances into the base. Additionally, improvements to the existing I-20/I-220 interchange will make for an improved travel experience for the motoring public. We hold these meetings so we can hear what taxpayers have to say about the project, and use that feedback to adjust and improve plans. We want to ultimately deliver a final product that best fits the needs of the community for many years to come.”

In November, DOTD and the Federal Highway Administration were nearing completion of the concept engineering and environmental process for proposed improvements to the I-220/I-20 interchange and addition of a Barksdale access road.

Officials expect a contract will be signed in March and construction is expected to begin next year, sometime around late summer or early fall.

$35M development for East Bank approved

A major development looks set for downtown Bossier City with the Bossier City Council giving final approval Oct. 5 to the sale of a 13.7-acre lot in the East Bank District.

The plaza at the East Bank District in downtown Bossier City. (courtesy photo)

Dapper Holdings, LLC is purchasing the land, located at the corner of Coleman Street and Bearkat Drive, for a $35 million medical facility, boutique hotel, and office building.

The development is expected to bring 75 to 100 temporary construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs.

Of the sale profits, $750,000 will be used to build two new parking lots in the East Bank District and another $700,000 of the sale will go towards completing design drawings for the Louisiana Tech Research Institute (LTRI) in the city’s National Cyber Research Park.

LTRI is a joint effort between the Cyber Innovation Center (CIC) and Louisiana Tech to expand the knowledge-based, 21st century workforce by advancing public/private partnerships, accelerating applied research and development, and promoting the commercialization of technology in the areas of cyber, energy, and resiliency.

The city has already contracted with Civil Design Group to design the parking lots and they have been sent out to bid. The city expects to open those bids the first of the November as well.

“That’s all we got, that’s as deep as I can get right now,” said Pam Glorioso, chief administrative officer for Bossier City.

The first phase of the proposed development is a 60,000 square feet medical facility, which would begin as a 10-bed short stay surgical hospital with an ambulatory surgery center.

William Barrow, representing Dapper Holdings, previously declined to disclose who the operator of the facility would be.

However, he told the city council last month he sees the medical facility as an “evolving” development.

“It would be developed to allow other healthcare facilities,” said Barrow. “It would be allowed to develop services such as rehabilitation and acute care.”

Construction is expected to begin six months after the sale is finalized. Estimated completion time is less than two years.

The land, previously owned by the Bossier Parish Police Jury and City of Bossier City, was appraised for $1.49 million.

Bossier City to make $60M worth of upgrades

The City of Bossier City is poised to make $60 million worth of upgrades to the city.

Tinsley Park is slated to see upgrades as part of the city’s improvement plan. (Randy Brown/Press-Tribune)

The city is using $60 million worth of new bonds to make upgrades to various elements such as new roads, expansion of current roads, animal control, parks and recreation, and a new council on aging building.

However, the bond won’t cost taxpayers any money as the debt service will be paid via a redirected sales tax.

Citizens passed a .25-cent sales tax in 1982 that would go towards funding a police and fire pension. Since the pension has been fully funded, that ordinance says the portion of sales tax can now be used by the city for improvements.

“We’re saving money. To the citizen, he or she won’t see a millage increase. We’re utilizing the same pennies coming in to put projects back on the ground in Bossier City,” explained Bossier City Chief Administrative Officer Pam Glorioso.

The largest share of the bond issue is dedicated to Bossier Parks and Recreation, with $20 million going to various projects such as new playground equipment, concessions and restroom upgrades, LED lighting renovations, building youth baseball/softball fields behind Tinsley Park, and turning Tinsley’s baseball/softball complex fields into turf fields.

The second largest portion of the funds is $17.4 million to complete the Walter O. Bigby Carriageway. This is a new major roadway for Bossier City that will continue the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway north from its current end towards Benton Road just south of I-220.

The total project cost is $55 million, of which the city already has $37.6 million budgeted.

Other major projects included in the bond are $6 million for a new Bossier Council on Aging Community Center and $1 million for Bossier City Animal Control.

Other road projects included in the list are $2.6 million in matching funds for the widening of Viking Drive. It is has been designated as a federal project, meaning the Federal Highway Administration will fund the other 80 percent of the project cost.

There is also $1.5 for the expansion of Coleman Street. The state has already given the city $1.3 million for the expansion that will run it from its current end near Bearkat Drive to the new $35 million medical development in the East Bank District.

Administration also included $1 million for the rehab of POW/MIA Drive in front of City Hall, $3 million to design and build the connection of Melrose to Plantation Drive on through to the Viking Drive Industrial Park, and $500,000 for cost overruns on the Shed Road widening project.

There is also $2.5 million budgeted for city wide drainage repairs, and $1.5 million set aside for new concrete along the Plantation Trace ditch.

Residents vote on new national, parish, and town leaders plus alcohol measures in Haughton

Two ballots saw Bossier Parish residents select officials for the police jury, school board, and Town of Plain Dealing, as well as new alcohol measures in the Haughton area.

Congressman Mike Johnson gives his victory speech at his watch party Tuesday night at Silver Star Smokehouse in Bossier City. The incumbent retained his 4th Congressional District seat to represent Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Randy Brown/Press-Tribune)

The Nov. 6 election saw Mike Johnson etain his seat in U.S. House of Representatives.

The Republican incumbent won his bid to retain Louisiana’s 4th Congressional District seat in Washington. Johnson claimed 74 percent of the vote in Bossier Parish.

Norman Craig will keep his seat on the Bossier Parish Police Jury. The special election to fill the remaining term of the District 4 seat saw Craig claim 53 percent of the vote over John “Ed” Jorden. Craig was named to replace former juror Sonny Cook earlier this year after Cook retired due to health reasons.

Duane Deen is the new District 4 Bossier Parish School Board representative. He beat out Haughton High School Principal Gene Couvillion by claiming 61 percent of the vote.

Eric Newman will keep his District 9 seat on the School Board. He beat out challenger Patrick O’Brien Boling, with Newman taking 54 percent of the vote to Boling’s 46 percent.

Bossier voters supported Act 322 to authorize gambling on fantasy sports contests and approved all six state constitutional amendments.

On the Dec. 8 ballot, all five of the alcohol proposition vote for Bossier Parish Police Jury District 2 passed. 

Those propositions on the ballot were:

• Shall the sale of beverages of alcoholic content containing not more than 6 percent alcohol by volume be permitted by package only and not for consumption on the premise?

• Shall the sale of beverages of alcoholic content containing not more than 6 percent alcohol by volume for consumption on the premises be permitted?

• Shall the sale of beverage alcohol containing one-half of one percent by volume and above for consumption on the premises be permitted?

• Shall the sale of beverage alcohol containing one-half of one percent by alcohol and volume and above be permitted by package only and not for consumption on the premises?

Bossier Parish residents also voted in several Shreveport races. In those races, Adrian Perkins defeated incumbent Ollie Tyler, 64 to 36 percent. Willie Bradford was selected as the Dist. A representative to the Shreveport City Council, while LaVette Fuller and John Nickelson won the Dist. B and Dist. C races, respectively.

In state elections, Kyle Ardoin won the Louisiana Secretary of State runoff capturing 59 percent of the vote with Gwen Collins-Greenup garnering 41 percent of the vote.