For many public school students across the Baton Rouge region, the first day of school next month will mark a return to normalcy, as they arrive onto once-flooded campuses that have been either completely restored or made temporarily habitable.
Other students will start the new school year as they left off last year's — attending classes in temporary classroom facilities or at other school campuses.
In Livingston Parish, the school system this week announced that three flooded campuses that were damaged last August will be completely restored in time for August 9, the first day of school. Those schools — Freshwater Elementary and Northside Elementary, both in Denham Springs, and Springfield High School — were among 14 schools restored enough after the flood to be put back into commission for the 2016-2017 school year, but still needed final repairs.
While this will be a big step forward for the school district, almost a year after 17 of the system's 46 campuses took on some amount of water last summer, much more work remains ahead.
Three campuses that have been completely closed since August 2016 will remain so next year, with students relocated to temporary classrooms at other campuses. System officials also said restoration work continued over the summer at five Denham Springs schools that reopened last year — Denham Springs High School, Denham Springs Freshman High, Denham Springs Junior High, Lewis Vincent Elementary and Seventh Ward Elementary — but those campuses won't be fully restored until next summer.
"The campuses that will be fully restored by the end of this summer are not located in a flood zone, so we've been able to access FEMA funding for these repairs at a faster rate than we can for others," Superintendent Rick Wentzel said this week.
Assistant Superintendent Joe Murphy said the fact that the schools weren't in a flood zone meant the system didn't have to ante up expensive National Flood Insurance Program deductibles.
Wentzel said the district has spent more than $45 million upfront in flood recovery clean-up and repair costs to date, a figure that is expected to grow to nearly $120 million as restoration work continues.
To date, FEMA has reimbursed $21 million to the school system, he said.
"It has been a slow process," Murphy said.
Freshwater Elementary, Northside Elementary and Springfield High School are the first of the 14 schools put back into commission last year that will be back to their pre-flood state this school year, Wentzel said.
"It looks like a brand new school," JoAn Cook, principal of Northside Elementary, said Wednesday.
The pre-kindergarten wing of the school on Robbie Street in Denham Springs escaped flooding, she said, but two other classroom buildings and the school gym had anywhere from 8 to 18 inches of water.
A restoration company came in and took out millwork, treated the buildings and threw things away, she said.
"It was clean when we came back, just not the same," Cook said of the school.
The bare classrooms had desks and chairs for the children and tables and chairs for the teachers, she said.
Teachers emptied cardboard boxes that had stored salvaged classroom items and turned the boxes into cubbies for the students and makeshift cabinets for the rooms, with the creative use of duct tape, Cook said.
When teachers return in a few weeks, they'll see real cabinetry in their rooms, she said.
At Freshwater Elementary, principal Julie Dugas described the restoration work at the school, located on Cockerham Road, as "gorgeous."
A single T-building on the campus escaped flooding last summer. The rest of the school got about two feet of water, Dugas said.
She was at the school when the flooding began, Dugas recalled, saying some teachers and their family were able to get some valuable things up off the floor as the waters seeped in. "We were able to save most of our technology," Dugas said.
Before the flood, the floors of the school's hallways were marked on each side by a black line that helped guide students when they were lining up.
The new floors have replaced that with bright lines of red, one of the school's colors, on each side of the hallways, Dugas said.
"It's amazing, the little things" that seem to have transformed the school, she said.
Students who would normally attend school at the three closed campuses will once again return to temporary classrooms set up at other schools in Livingston. Southside Elementary students will go to class at their temporary campus set up on the campus of Juban Parc Elementary. Southside Junior High has a temporary campus at Juban Parc Junior High. And Denham Springs Elementary is in a temporary campus set up on property at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, provided without cost to the school system.
LIVINGSTON — Plans to reopen two more flood-damaged Livingston Parish schools and build temp…
Neighboring parishes are dealing with the same kind of scenarios.
In Ascension Parish, which saw five schools close after the flood, students will be returning to temporary buildings set up on their home campuses of St. Amant High, Lake Elementary, Galvez Middle and Galvez Primary.
Students at a fifth flood-damaged school, St. Amant Primary School, who had been attending class at a former community college location, are expected to be back in their own school by the new school year, said Chad Lynch, director of planning and construction.
"Excluding any unforeseen delays, students should be back in St. Amant Primary by the start of school" on Aug. 9, Lynch said.
Restoration work should also be completed next month on the gym, band room and a classroom building at St. Amant Middle, which shares a campus with the primary school, and was able to stay open last year despite some water damage.
DONALDSONVILLE — With construction underway at two flood-damaged Ascension Parish public sch…
The restoration work on a third flood-damaged school, Lake Elementary, is out for bid now, Lynch said, and bid packages should be ready in two or three months for the last of the flood-damaged schools, St. Amant High, Galvez Middle and Galvez Primary.
ST. AMANT — Work is underway to restore St. Amant Primary, the first of the five severely fl…
The consulting firm, CSRS, hired by the Ascension Parish School Board, has estimated that total restoration costs for flood damage in the school district come to approximately $108 million. Taking into account optimum FEMA reimbursements, flood insurance, donations and other possible forms of funding, the school district's share of the costs is expected to be in the $25 million to $28 million range.
East Baton Rouge Parish had 10 schools flood so badly that students had to relocate. All but two of them will be back home when school starts Aug. 9. The two schools that won’t be reopened are Greenbrier Elementary and the former Lanier Elementary, which is now a charter school run by California-based Celerity Schools.
A flurry of repair work is under way across Baton Rouge. Glen Oaks High’s repairs are temporary, enough to return kids to the campus. School officials have been in extended negotiating with FEMA about the scope of the permanent repairs.
Speaking Wednesday at the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, Superintendent Warren Drake said while relations have improved of late, dealing with FEMA has been a challenge.
“You don’t want to know,” he joked.
While overall damages will run somewhere between $80 and $100 million, FEMA has reimbursed the school system only for $3.5 million so far and has committed to paying it another $13.6 million.
Drake said he expects the FEMA reimbursement process will go on for years, perhaps even decades.
“Got an email yesterday from FEMA that said we were overpaid for … Katrina,” Drake said, sparking a laugh. “And I’m thinking, 'Am I going to be dealing with this in 10 years?'”