BATON ROUGE, La. — Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the U.S. Department of Defense has awarded more than $7.5 million to develop technology-enhanced learning centers at five Vernon Parish schools that serve thousands of families supported by the U.S. Army’s Fort Polk.
A pilot program, the Defense Community Infrastructure Program addresses quality of life enhancements in military communities. More than 2,000 Fort Polk military children attend Vernon Parish schools and make up nearly a quarter of district enrollment. The Campus Connections and Learning Spaces project will provide children of military and civilian families with state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor learning environments that feature wireless communications, digital displays and interactive learning tools.
“We are grateful for this Department of Defense investment in the future of all children in the Leesville and Vernon Parish community that is home to Fort Polk,” Gov. Edwards said. “This elite Army training post has an annual economic impact in Louisiana of over $1.8 billion and directly employs more than 20,000 people. Through investments in infrastructure and education, the State of Louisiana will continue to commit our resources and deliver the quality of life that the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk truly deserve.”
Louisiana Economic Development will provide a 10 percent match for the Department of Defense award, which will enhance Leesville High, Leesville Junior High, Pickering High, Pickering Elementary and Vernon Middle schools.
“The Vernon Parish School System is very excited and grateful to be the recipient of the DCIP grant to enhance education for our families,” Superintendent James Williams said. “This grant money will be a valuable asset to improve our academic facilities and our technology capabilities. We’re very thankful to the Department of Defense, the Governor’s Office, LED, our state representatives, school board, and partners at Fort Polk for making this happen. This will be a truly positive impact for the educational enhancement of our students and quality of life for our families.”
In addition to supporting the DCIP grant, Gov. Edwards has committed $800,000 to replace the heating and air conditioning system at North Polk Elementary, located on Fort Polk and part of the Vernon Parish district.
“I’m excited to see this first grant approval from the Defense Community Infrastructure Program,” said Leesville Mayor Rick Allen, who also serves as Fort Polk Progress chairman. “We have been working with other defense communities around the country through the Association of Defense Communities for many years to establish this grant program, which creates an opportunity to improve the quality of life for our military families. I am incredibly thankful to Governor Edwards and LED Secretary Don Pierson for providing the matching dollars to make this investment in education possible.”
The $7.5 million Campus Connections and Learning Project is the most significant Fort Polk education investment since the establishment of Parkway Elementary. That $20 million school replaced South Polk Elementary and opened in 2016 following a $16 million commitment by the Defense Department’s Office of Economic Adjustment, a $3 million match from the Vernon Parish School Board and $1 million from the State of Louisiana.
“One of the greatest responsibilities of a military community is to provide quality education for our military families,” said District 30 state Sen. Mike Reese, founder and former chairman of Fort Polk Progress. “This DCIP grant will allow us to focus on STEAM learning centers (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) that are important to our military partners. This is a great example of what we can accomplish through partnership. With the support of Governor Edwards, our Congressional Delegation and many others, we are improving opportunities for our country’s heroes stationed at Fort Polk.”
The State of Louisiana also is approaching completion of more than $25 million in highway, sewer and water improvements connecting University Parkway near Fort Polk with La. Highway 468. Initial capital outlay funds are committed for an eventual $6 million Fort Polk Entrance Road project with similar infrastructure upgrades. These investments are focused on spurring private development of workforce housing and commercial and retail amenities to enhance quality of life for Fort Polk and the Leesville area.