Almost two years to the day since Greenbrier Elementary was inundated with more than four feet of floodwater, the school is finally reopening — a cause for a homecoming celebration on Saturday.
The morning began with a short color run in Monticello subdivision where teachers, parents, students and other runners were showered with colored powder. Then they cut the ribbon and opened up the renovated campus for tours.
Principal Shayla Hollins, who followed the $5.5 million worth of flood work over the past several months, was able to move into her renovated office on Thursday, two days before the homecoming event, and the teachers returned Friday. Students will arrive on Thursday, the first day of the 2018-19 school year.
Hollins said almost all of the work is complete, enough to have school. Besides the flood repairs, the general contractor, Charles Carter Construction of Baton Rouge, expanded the school's library and reworked its entry area to make it more secure.
“They actually did some renovations, and they remodeled as well. It gives it a brand new feeling,” Hollins said. “Everything in it is new. So it’s worth it.”
Dozens of schools in Ascension, East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes were flooded so badly in August 2016 that they had to move. All but a few have already returned.
Hollins, who joined Greenbrier in 2015, has been through every step of Greenbrier’s two-year exile, first as Greenbrier’s assistant principal and then, five months after the flood, as the newly promoted principal.
It was far from an ideal situation. Greenbrier children at first shared space with older kids at Broadmoor Middle. Then, they moved into the vacant Howell Park Elementary campus. Both facilities were several miles away.
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Hollins said the Monticello subdivision where the school is situated “looks pretty good,” with about 90 percent of residents back in their homes. On July 28, Hollins and several faculty members got a first hand look when they walked the neighborhood.
“We really wanted to reach out to the community and let them know that we’re back,” she said.
In the past two years, many Greenbrier children have gone elsewhere. Overall enrollment at the end of last year was about 370 students, about 100 fewer students than pre-flood levels.
Kate Risbon, a kindergarten teacher who’s been at Greenbrier since 2013, said she’s glad to be back home. She didn’t flood at her own home, as was the case for many Greenbrier teachers, but did face replacing plenty of lost instructional materials, mixing together donated items with ones she bought herself.
“It was difficult, just because you’re living out of boxes for the past few years,” Risbon said. “That was a challenge. You never really felt settled.”
A silver lining that helped keep her and other teachers going was knowing “we’re getting a new school when we get back.”
The homecoming, however, is coming with additional challenges, including implementing a brand new kindergarten curriculum.
“Setting up the classroom, moving in and learning the new curriculum this year,” she said. “There’s always changes.”
Justin Williams decided to keep his two boys at Greenbrier throughout the days spent at Broadmoor Middle and Howell Park Elementary.
“I wanted them to stay with their friends,” Williams explained. “I was going to do whatever I could to keep some kind of normalcy, to not make it any harder on them.”
When the school flooded in August 2016, after just two days of school, so did the Williams family home in Monticello.
“One minute (the kids) are riding the bus. The next day we were trying to get out of the neighborhood,” Williams recalled.
During the exile period, Williams became the school’s parent-teacher organization president. He said he thinks dads should be just an involved in their children’s education as mom’s. Like Hollins, he’s hopeful that the school’s return home will mean that more students are returning as well.
”Word of mouth travels fast,” he said. “We’re in our own space.”