The cost of repairing flooded schools in Baton Rouge is estimated at more than $62.5 million, some repairs will take years to complete and some of the flood-damaged schools may never reopen.
That was the picture school officials painted Saturday for the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board during an all-day retreat at the Louisiana Technology Center.
The retreat was a first step in a post-flooding re-envisioning of the school system following August's historic flooding.
The board plans more retreats in the coming months as it seeks to reach greater consensus about rebuilding plans, redrawing attendance zones and determining school construction for the next decade.
August's flood forced 10 schools to relocate temporarily and forced the closure of four administrative centers.
The dislocation appears to have exacerbated a long-term decline in enrollment that is partially the result of increasing competition from charter schools. Charter schools are public schools run by private groups via charters, or contracts.
School officials say the loss in enrollment, more than 900 students below projections, is likely to reduce state per-pupil funding for the system by $5.1 million.
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CSRS/Tillage Construction, the joint partnership which oversees most school construction for the school system, on Saturday detailed 29 post-flood projects with an estimated total cost of $62.5 million.
Some expenses, however, are still being tallied including the cost of replacing damaged food, furniture, instructional materials, technology and textbooks.
Of the system's 10 flooded schools, Twin Oaks Elementary is the only one that has been fully repaired and back open.
Students at the former Prescott Middle – now Democracy Prep charter school – returned in October, and students at Park Forest Middle returned over the past month but their home campuses are only partially repaired.
Full repairs to Park Forest Middle are scheduled to be complete by fall 2018, while the repair timeline for Democracy Prep is still being determined.
Glen Oaks High School is similarly planning to return by this fall but only to part of that campus at Cedar Grove Drive.
Two other schools —Glen Oaks Park and Park Forest Elementary — have been fast-tracked to fully reopen this fall with repairs to be completed by then. The estimated cost of remediating and repairing those schools stands at $4.4 and $3.2 million, respectively.
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The future of Howell Park Elementary is in doubt.
Since the historic flooding in August, the north Baton Rouge school’s 250 students have been doubling up with students at Claiborne Elementary, a large school constructed in 2011. In December, the school system reassigned Howell Parks’ principal to a Central Office job and left both schools in the control of Claiborne Principal Rochelle Anderson.
Deputy Superintendent Michelle Clayton said merging the two schools is a possibility.
“The space that the Howell Park students are in now is much nicer,” said Clayton.
Another school campus in doubt is the former Lanier Elementary.
The state took over Lanier in 2009 and it was placed in the state-run Recovery School District, or RSD. In 2014, RSD handed control of the campus to Los Angeles-based Celerity Schools. After the flood, the charter school group moved its Lanier students to another one of its campuses, at the former Crestworth Middle School.
Ed Jenkins, program manager with CSRS/Tillage Construction, said he spoke with RSD officials Friday and told them the damage at Lanier is bad and that Celerity should not bother to make temporary repairs. Long term rebuilding plans, however, are not yet determined, he said.
Greenbrier Elementary is yet another flooded school with a question mark next to its future.
Since the flood, Greenbrier's students have doubled up with those at Broadmoor Middle School. Greenbrier is set to stay at Broadmoor Middle until at least fall 2018, but school officials have yet to commit to its reopening. Jenkins said the school is so damaged that it needs to be torn down and rebuilt.
In the meantime, the school system plans to spend $644,000 installing 10 temporary classrooms at Broadmoor Middle’s Goodwood Boulevard campus to better accommodate Greenbrier's students.
Repairs are set to start soon at two of the four flooded administrative centers: a small building in north Baton Rouge on the property of the former North Highland Elementary Schools, as well as the system’s seven-year-old Professional Development Center on North Sherwood Forest Drive.
Superintendent Warren Drake said the school system is limited as to how much construction it can undertake.
“We financially can’t start every project at the same time,” Drake said. “It’s a cash flow problem.”
Future construction depends in part on how quickly the Federal Emergency Management Agency reimburses the school system.
FEMA has agreed to reimburse up to 90 percent of flood costs, after backing out flood insurance payments the school system has already received. Yet, FEMA has so for cut no checks, despite requests worth $6.2 million that are already in the pipeline with more on the way.
Unlike neighboring school districts that suffered flooding, East Baton Rouge opted not to seek “emergency” funding from FEMA based on rough estimates of damage in favor of compiling more detailed estimates likely to bring in more money.
“We are going through a more methodical process,” Drake said.
Board members got a primer on just how detailed. Steve Bryce, whom CSRS hired to oversee the FEMA reimbursement process, said FEMA scrutinizes every detail.
“It’s almost as if every reimbursement goes through an audit,” Bryce said.
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School Board members on Saturday also talked about whether to rebuild Glen Oaks High School. The north Baton Rouge high school had 17 buildings before the flood and 15 were damaged.
Drake said Glen Oaks has far fewer students that it once did and it makes little sense to fix all those buildings.
“We don’t want to build back 15 buildings at Glen Oaks when we didn’t use 15 buildings at Glen Oaks,” Drake said.
Board member Jill Dyason questioned rebuilding Glen Oaks High as a smaller school. She noted that Istrouma High School, which is not far away, is reopening in August as well. She suggested expanding the attendance zones for both schools so they could have more students and offer more.
Board member Kenyetta Nelson-Smith strongly disagreed. She said the school system “may not need to build at such a large capacity” but said the high school is still needed.
The school system is scrutinizing a number of its smaller campuses for possible closure.
Clayton, the deputy superintendent, said keeping open any elementary school with fewer than 250 students or any middle or high schools with fewer than 400 is difficult to justify financially “unless there is special programming.”
For instance, she said, Southdowns School has just 126 students but serves a special population of young children with disabilities.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was modified on Feb. 6, 2017, to correct what Dyason had proposed. The earlier version incorrectly said she floated the idea of not rebuilding the school at all and reassigning its students elsewhere. What she proposed was expanding the attendance zones for both schools so they could have more students and offer more. The Advocate regrets the error.