BR.glenoakshighlatest.011618    051.jpg (copy)

Several building at Glen Oaks High School, like this one shown in February 2017, remains as they've been since the aftermath of the August 2016 floods, gutted but unrepaired. The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board is debating the scope, sequence and cost of remaining repairs to the north Baton Rouge high school.

classroom building is one that the school board will be seeking bids for including repairs to five flooded schools as well as to an administrative center. Glen Oaks High is on the repair list. There are unflooded parts of the school still in use, including the basketball gym.

Seventeen months after the Great Flood of 2016 and five months after students and staff returned to a temporary campus, Glen Oaks High School is finally set to be fully repaired and improved.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday agreed unanimously to $16 million worth of repairs to the north Baton Rouge high school.

The first phase, estimated at $7.6 million, will start by March and be complete by August. It will involve major repairs to five buildings, demolition of four more and removal of several temporary buildings.

The second phase, estimated to cost $8.4 million, will start in July of this year and continue through August 2019. It involves building a new combination administrative-media center, new commons building with additional classrooms, a cafeteria addition and renovations to the auditorium and gym.

A third and final phase is also envisioned. It would occur at an undetermined date and would be contingent on the April 29 renewal of a 1-cent sales tax earmarked for public education. It would involve mostly of improvements to athletic facilities. The cost of this final phase, expected to be less than $10 million, will be settled on in the next few days, prior to a community forum planned for next Thursday on the Glen Oaks campus at 6650 Cedar Grove Drive.

A long debate preceded Thursday's unanimous vote focusing not so much on the merits of the project, but whether Glen Oaks High School is getting all it deserves and, by extension, whether north Baton Rouge public schools in general are getting all they deserve.

“I want to know are the curtains at Lee High and Baton Rouge High more expensive than the ones going in at Istrouma and Glen Oaks?” asked Gary Chambers, publisher of The Rouge Collection.

“Please stop giving us the crumbs in north Baton Rouge,” Chambers said. “Glen Oaks deserves $40 million. The plan is good, but it needs to be better.”

Even after his time was up, Chambers repeatedly interjected when board members were speaking.

“Mr. Chambers, you’re out of order,” said board President David Tatman, hitting his gavel loudly.

“I know,” retorted Chamber. “So is the plan.”

Board members Donna Collins and Kenyetta Nelson-Smith, whose districts both include much of north Baton Rouge, said they are unhappy with the current school construction plans for the 1-cent sale tax if it is renewed.

“I too have grave concerns about the equity in this current tax plan as it’s related to north Baton Rouge,” Nelson-Smith said.

Board member Mike Gaudet, who represents portions of south Baton Rouge near LSU, pushed back some. He noted that south Baton Rouge school board districts have seen only 30 percent of school construction spending since the 1-cent sales tax was first approved in 1998 compared with 70 percent for those in the rest of the school district.

“I think it’s misinformation to portray this board as not having equitably spent money in the past,” Gaudet said.

The school system had grander plans for Glen Oaks initially, but those plans have steadily been down-scaled. As recently as October, the total project price was about $45 million. Now, it looks to be closer to $20 million.

Part of the lowered ambitions is that the school, which was badly damaged in the August 2016 floods, was expected to qualify for substantially more reimbursement money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But dreams of $20-plus million from FEMA shrunk over time to an estimated $4.8 million. That $4.8 million is going to be paired with $2.8 million in unrelated FEMA reimbursement money. The remaining $8.4 million to complete the work for the first two phases will have to come from somewhere else, as yet undetermined.

Superintendent Warren Drake said the school system thought initially FEMA would agree to pay to rebuild much of the flooded campus as opposed to just repairing it.

“Replacement money is two or three times what repair money is,” Drake said. “And we’re getting no replacement money.”

The project costs are down also because the school system had anticipated spending additional money to elevate any newly constructed buildings, but decided elevation is unnecessary because the school is not in a flood zone that would require its buildings to be elevated.

David Moran, a member of the public, urged the school system to find other money to help protect Glen Oaks High and other schools from flooding again.

“If we fund this, what’s going to prevent the next big flood from undoing all the money we’re spending here?” Moran asked.

Another factor in the reduced cost was the shelving, for now, of plans to close nearby North Banks Middle, which has 128 students, and merge it with Glen Oaks High and its 529 students. School officials are still debating what the best plan is for North Banks.

Once the repairs are complete, Glen Oaks High is expected to enroll between 400 and 500 students. Pre-flood, Glen Oaks had a maximum capacity of 1,151 students. At its mid-'90s peak, the school enrolled more than 1,400 students. The repairs approved Thursday will enable the refurbished high school to house as many as 850 students.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.