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The storm fence surrounding the campus of Denham Springs Elementary remains locked and the school shuttered, a delay that Livingston Parish School administrators blame on FEMA being too slow in settling on reimbursement payments for the school that flooded in August 2016.

After two years of tussling with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Livingston Parish School Board finally has the go-ahead to demolish and rebuild two of the three most damaged schools from the 2016 flood.

"After two years and a lot of hard work and a lot of effort from a lot of folks, we got a FEMA determination of substantial damage on two campuses," said Denham Springs-area board member Buddy Mincey Jr. said at Thursday's School Board meeting.

Also, the board voted to cancel a planned audit of the district's finances that was to look for cost-savings for staff raises, after the auditor raised questions about the scope of the probe.

Assistant Superintendent Joe Murphy said FEMA has given the school system permission to replace all but the multi-purpose room at Denham Springs Elementary School, and all but the band room at Southside Junior High School. The band and multi-purpose buildings were newer and had less damage from the 2016 flood.

Murphy said designs are not yet set, but he anticipates elevating all of the structures on fill and using cinder block instead of sheet rock, so the structures will be more resilient in case of another disaster. 

Murphy said once he gets approval for Southside Elementary School, which is expected soon, it will take from 2½ to 3 years to rebuild.

Students at all three schools have been learning in temporary buildings since the flood nearly two years ago. 

At Mincey's suggestion, architecture firm Jim Ziler and Associates was appointed to design Denham Springs Elementary School. Architecture and engineering firm Alvin Fairburn and Associates was appointed to design the new Southside Junior High School.

The good news about the schools came after a heated discussion among the members about an independent audit ordered in June. At that time, the board voted 6-3 to hire auditors to look for cost-savings in their $200 million budget to pay for teacher and staff raises. Pressing the issue was Live Oak-area board member Kellee Dickerson.

But Trey Sanders, a partner with Hannis T. Bourgeois, LLC, told the board Thursday he could not do the audit without more specifics about what the board wants to investigate and the procedures in place to manage the audit.

Since the firm is currently doing the school board's annual financial audit, it would impair the firm's independence to make choices about what sectors to probe, Sanders said.

"If we came in and arbitrarily told them what we wanted them to do, that would be almost like management," Sanders said after the meeting.

After some debate following the auditor's concerns, the board on a 7-2 vote approved a motion by Mincey to cancel the audit and refer all future concerns about audits or misappropriation of funds to the superintendent or the board's budget/goals committee.

Voting for the motion were Mincey, Jan Benton, Jim Richardson, Sid Kinchen, Malcolm Sibley, Jeffery Cox and David Graham. Voting against the motion were Dickerson and Karen Schmitt. 

In other business, the board accepted Blount General Contractors as the apparent low-bidder to build a new baseball and softball complex at Live Oak High School. The firm bid $5.4 million to build the fields, a road, dugouts and a concession. A $1.4 million alternate option would include adding also two new field houses.


Follow Caroline Grueskin on Twitter, @cgrueskin.