ST. AMANT — As floodwater rose inside St. Amant High School in August, it crept up to the entrance of a new campus building going up just a stone's throw away.
The $13.9 million, 66,000-square-foot Freshman Academy for ninth-graders was months away from completion when the rains came.
But while $60,000 worth of lighting equipment stored outside on the site was lost, the academy itself came through. Now, that building will help allow students and staff to return to the partially flooded campus next year.
The key factor in the building not getting swamped by waters was tougher federal and parish elevation rules, which have changed since 1978 when the main high school was built, said Chad Lynch, the Ascension Parish school district's director of planning and construction.
"That saved many of our buildings," Lynch said.
Five of 27 school buildings in the district flooded, including St. Amant High. Architects are drawing up plans for repair of those five flood-damaged schools now, Lynch said.
Designed as a space for ninth-graders, St. Amant's Freshman Academy will now have a new role when its 2,000 high school students return.
Since the flood, the students have been "platooning" at Dutchtown High, with Dutchtown students at the Dutchtown campus during the first part of the day and St. Amant students going to class after that.
In February, though, St. Amant students will be returning to their own campus on La. 431, with the help of 40 classrooms in temporary buildings that will be moved there, plus classrooms in several temporary buildings that were already at the high school.
Additional classrooms for students will also be set up in available space in the Freshman Academy, making a total of 28 classrooms there; all of the administrative staff for the high school will be housed there, as well.
"I'm extremely proud and happy for this community," Assistant Superintendent A. Denise Graves said of the Freshman Academy and its part in the school's coming back from the flood.
The academy is designed for 600 freshmen with their own faculty and associate principal and is the first of three such academies — the others, still under construction, will be at East Ascension and Dutchtown high schools — to open on the east side of the parish to ease crowding on campuses.
The Ascension Parish school district has had the concept of a "freshman academy" in place for the past decade, in all the four high schools here, including Donaldsonville High on the west bank. It allows for class scheduling that keeps freshmen with the same group of teachers throughout the day.
That next step is a separate building for core classes for freshmen — who will take electives and other courses in the main high school building — as an "effort to help students successfully move from the eighth grade, where they are on top, to high school, where they are beginning anew," said Lisa Bacala, director of secondary education for the school district.
"We believe that a successful transition from middle school is necessary for students to become all they can be in high school," Bacala said.
Paid for by a 2009 bond issue and sales tax revenues, St. Amant High's Freshman Academy, designed by Domain Architects of Baton Rouge, features an outdoor courtyard and event area that will serve the whole campus, a bus drop-off area that will serve the whole school and a 20,000-square-foot kitchen that will also serve all grades.
"We're still trying to make it one campus," Lynch said.