Fully restoring and rebuilding Glen Oaks High School, destroyed in the 2016 August flood, could cost as much as $45 million and that price tag doesn't include the millions already spent to get it back up and running in time for the current school year.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has reimbursed the East Baton Rouge Parish school system $6.6 million in restoration costs so far, and is expected to pitch in another $10 million more of the remaining costs to repair the north Baton Rouge high school, but that's it.
Voters may be asked to make up the difference, but school leaders are still debating how much to spend on a high school that educates barely a third of the students it did at its peak enrollment in the mid-1990s.
In July, FEMA awarded the school system $1.7 million to pay for most of the immediate cleanup of the school after the flood. The federal agency announced Oct. 24 it was giving the district another $4.9 million to reimburse part of the more than $6 million it spent to repair five flooded buildings and install 12 temporary buildings. That work allowed students and faculty to return in August to the campus at 6650 Cedar Grove Drive.
The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board agreed Thursday to seek bids for almost $16 million…
Several flooded buildings on the campus, however, remain boarded up. Superintendent Warren Drake has talked about simply not repairing Glen Oaks High, instead rebuilding the school, albeit much smaller.
Built in 1960, the school enrolled more than 1,400 students at its peak in 1996. It currently has less than 550 students, making it one of the smallest public high schools in the city. And it's slowly shrinking. Its ninth grade is slightly smaller than its senior class, which is usually the reverse in high schools.
Plans do call for adding 130 more students from nearby North Banks Middle School. The middle school's enrollment is declining, and once the move is made, the school would close its doors.
FEMA is paying as much as 90 percent of the cost of repair work stemming from the August 2016 flood, but the federal agency has strict rules for what kind of work it will cut checks for and what it won't.
Early on, the school system had hoped for $20 million-plus from FEMA for permanent restoration of Glen Oaks High. But hopes — and projected reimbursement levels — have steadily dimmed as negotiations with FEMA have dragged on over several months.
Ed Jenkins told the School Board on Oct. 17 that he expects to hear back from FEMA “within the next 30 days.”
“Best case right now is $10 million, certainly not enough to do a total new building at the site,” said Jenkins, program manager with CSRS/Tillage Construction, which oversees most public school construction in Baton Rouge.
About a dozen residents of Baton Rouge on Thursday night sat at four tables in the Istrouma …
The school system is considering asking voters in April to make up the difference. Upgrading Glen Oaks High School is one of dozens of schools with potential construction projects that the school system is weighing asking voters to fund by renewing a 1-cent sales tax earmarked for education.
Work still to be done includes converting one building into offices for a middle school, tearing down and rebuilding the cafeteria while adding a new library, improving the athletic fields and sprucing up Glen Oaks’ exterior.
The price tag Jenkins gave for this added work is $45 million. With the $10 million FEMA is expected to provide, the district still needs $35 million to complete the project.
Part of the high price, Jenkins explained, stems from the likelihood of having to raise the elevation of any newly constructed buildings on the 40-acre property. Also construction costs in general have gone up since the flood and are expected to keep rising as reconstruction work from other disasters such as hurricanes Harvey and Irma dominate the marketplace, he said.
“If we receive more information before this is finalized that number could be decreased or it could be increased,” Jenkins said.
Board member Mike Gaudet questioned the logic of spending that kind of money on a school as small as Glen Oaks High.
“That's $90,000 a student,” Gaudet said, assuming that 500 students attend the school.
Drake said he too shares Gaudet’s concern about the potential cost.
“We don’t want to spend $45 million on a building that has 500 kids in it,” the superintendent said. “We agree with that.”