Determined not to see a replay of problems encountered with flooded schools following Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008, authorities in Vermilion Parish are moving ahead with plans for a concrete wall and pump system to protect more of the parish’s schools from floodwaters.
The latest project calls for spending $2.8 million to erect a concrete wall more than five feet high and install a pump system to protect Erath High and the adjacent Erath Middle School. The project is the fourth FEMA-funded flood wall project designed to protect schools in the coastal parish from flooding.
Vermilion Parish school leaders know firsthand the perils of coastal flooding and the impact on the school buildings and the lives sheltered inside. Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008 pushed water in some schools across the coastal parish.
Schools in Erath were closed and a campus-sharing system began for about six months with students at closed schools attending classes on campuses that didn’t flood on an alternating, three-day-week schedule.
Following Ike, construction began on a flood protection wall for Dozier Elementary in Erath. Following Rita, the school was closed, and eventually classes were held in FEMA buildings while Dozier was remodeled and renovated.
Rebuilding the school was an option — but not the best financial one, said Vermilion Parish Superintendent Jerome Puyau. He was the district’s facilities manager from early 2006 until he was named superintendent about six years later.
“The key component was we had to look at what the cost was to rebuild. What was the most cost-efficient — was it to rebuild or how to best protect the school. It was more cost-effective to build a wall than tear down and rebuild the school,” Puyau said.
Next came construction of a wall more than five feet high for 7th Ward Elementary. The wall protects the campus on three sides, with a 12-foot-tall earthen embankment offering protection at the back of the school.
Part-wall, part-earthen berm also offers protection at a third school — Forked Island Elementary. A fourth of the campus is protected by a concrete wall while the remainder of the campus is surrounded by an earthen berm.
FEMA funded 100 percent of the first three projects. FEMA is funding 75 percent of the Erath Middle and High schools’ wall with the Vermilion Parish School Board covering the remaining costs, said Gene Sellers, the project’s engineer.
Sellers said the design phase for the wall is complete and the project is awaiting a go-ahead to move forward with bids for construction. That process could take up to three months, with construction expected to last about 18 months.
“It won’t be ready until after the next hurricane season, so we’re hoping for no hurricane next season,” Sellers said.
Once complete, the wall protecting Erath High and Erath Middle schools will measure about five feet, six inches and encompass an area of nine acres to surround both schools, Sellers said.
A pump and subsurface drainage systems will help draw water out of the campus. The pump system features three, 12-inch, 40-horsepower pumps capable of pumping more than 3,000 gallons per minute, Sellers said. An emergency generator will ensure pumps are operational if there’s a power failure, he said.
Meanwhile, the district invested in an aqua dam — a six-foot, water-filled temporary wall to offer protection to both Erath schools that are awaiting a permanent concrete wall structure. Puyau said the aqua dam system has never been deployed.
There aren’t any other plans to construct more walls to protect other schools in the district from flooding, because it’s not needed, Puyau said.
“The only other school we’re concerned with is Gueydan High, but the town is surrounded by an earthen berm,” Puyau said. “The town itself took preventative measures years ago.”
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.