ST. AMANT — Work is underway to restore St. Amant Primary, the first of the five severely flood-damaged Ascension Parish schools to see repairs begin almost a year after the devastating rains of last August.
The district is proceeding with the $3.5 million restoration of the primary school on La. 429 — whose approximately 600 students attended class on a former community college campus last year — without word yet of how much the school system might be reimbursed by Federal Emergency Management Agency grant money.
A FEMA spokesman said Friday the allocation of those funds should be made by July.
FEMA reimbursements for public projects come through the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOSEP), and can be as much as 90 percent of restoration costs.
The required project worksheet — a vital step in the grant process — for St. Amant Primary was submitted to FEMA in early January, schools Superintendent David Alexander said Friday.
With the project currently still in review by FEMA, the school district went ahead and bid and awarded the contract for the St. Amant Primary project in May, in hopes of having the campus open before the new school year.
"I don't understand why there's been such a delay" in the FEMA review process for the flood-damaged schools, Alexander said.
"We're a little confused," said Alexander, adding that the review process for other flood-related projects in the school district, such as the set-up of temporary campuses at four of the flooded schools, has moved at a faster pace.
The school district also began work in May on St. Amant Middle, which shares a campus with St. Amant Primary. The middle school was able to stay open last year, despite having some flood damage. The cost to repair it is estimated at $1.3 million.
The project worksheet for St. Amant Middle was submitted to FEMA in March, Alexander said, and is still in the review process.
FEMA spokesman Jake Conley said Friday that a grant of $3 million is expected to be allocated for the St. Amant Primary School some time in early July and a grant of $888,000 is expected to be awarded for the St. Amant Middle School in mid-July.
The process of identifying storm-related damage and associated scope of work to fix that damage can be lengthy, depending on the level of damage, Conley said.
"Additionally, items such as applicable code and standards upgrades and hazard mitigation proposals can take time to discuss and develop," he said.
Chad Calder, director of planning and construction for the Ascension Parish public school system, said plans for the restoration of three other schools that received major damage in the flood — St. Amant High, Lake Elementary and Galvez Middle — are close to being ready to bid, and planning for the final flood-damaged school, Galvez Primary, is close behind that.
ST. AMANT – For the past six months, St. Amant High students have carried on the school year…
But, he said, "We're still awaiting obligations from FEMA. The biggest challenge is making sure we have the funding."
Conley said FEMA expects to be allocating grants for the Lake Elementary project, as well as for ancillary buildings at St. Amant High School, in July.
Walking through the St. Amant Primary campus that was busy with construction workers last week, Superintendent Alexander said, "FEMA has not delayed us yet, but if we don't get obligations on those projects pending, there could be a problem because of cash flow."
When asked if he could estimate when the remaining schools that received major damage in the flood might be restored, Alexander said, "I can't even speculate. There are too many factors to speculate."
"If cash flow and FEMA reimbursements come in a timely way they might could be finished in a timely way," he said.