Brookstown Middle School, which has operated in two locations since its campus was flooded in August, is headed home to 4375 E. Brookstown Drive sooner than planned, but the students may not stay there long.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board last week agreed to spend an estimated $6 million to repair the flooded north Baton Rouge campus so students can return home for the start of the 2017-18 school year in August.

But those students will be on the move again pretty soon. 

The 116 students in Brookstown's magnet program are scheduled to move in January to a renovated, reopened Istrouma High School. Once there, they will serve as the nucleus for a revived Istrouma Middle Magnet School, which closed in 2004.

The plans for the remaining 163 Brookstown Middle students are less certain. That school population figure is much smaller than the 400-student minimum the school system prefers for its middle and high schools to be financially viable.

Superintendent Warren Drake said he’s inclined to let them stay at the repaired Brookstown campus for as many as three years, but the school won’t take in new students. Instead, over time, nearby Winbourne Elementary would add middle school grades, one grade at a time, until it becomes a school with kindergarten through eighth grades, Drake suggested.

Once all students have left 4375 E. Brookstown Drive, the buildings could be used for another purpose, perhaps offices to replace administrative space damaged during the August floods, Drake said.

Brookstown Middle didn’t make the original cut for immediate flood repairs, and adding it to that list was proposed just recently.

The accelerated homecoming for Brookstown Middle is being driven in part by the desire to help flooded Greenbrier Elementary. When Brookstown Middle students vacate their temporary home at Howell Park Elementary, where they moved in January, the roughly 400 Greenbrier students will take their place. The idea is for Greenbrier to spend the 2017-18 school year at Howell Park while Greenbrier’s own damaged home at 12203 Canterbury Drive is repaired. 

Greenbrier students have shared space with Broadmoor Middle School since September and have stayed there even as other flooded Baton Rouge schools have returned home or moved to better spaces. For instance, Brookstown Middle spent several months after the floods shacking up with Scotlandville Middle School before moving to Howell Park’s campus.

At a March 4 School Board retreat, Drake had a much different plan. He said it would be better if Greenbrier stayed at Broadmoor Middle for the 2017-18 school. He argued then that the two schools complemented each other and that elementary students added spark to the middle school campus. To ease space concerns, he proposed adding several temporary buildings to Broadmoor Middle School.

But last week, Drake said the situation wasn't working. “Everybody is on top of each other,” he said.

For instance, the elementary school can’t even make morning announcements over the intercom lest it interrupt the already-started middle school day, he said.

Board member Mark Bellue said the students and faculty at the two schools have good attitudes about their situation but that goes only so far.

“It’s like having people crammed in after the storm,” Bellue said. “Everyone starts getting on each other's nerves.”

The plan for Brookstown Middle is to quickly seek bids to repair the flooded campus. Construction starts in May. It is to be ready for students by August, though some repairs will continue into September. The areas set for repair include drywall, flooring, wall base, insulation, painting, millwork, doors and various building systems. As with other flooded schools, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is prepared to reimburse the school system up to 90 percent of the cost of repairs.

Board member Michael Gaudet expressed concern about whether it makes sense to rebuild the school to its previous size, given the small, shrinking student population at Brookstown Middle.

“Are we going to rebuild the school for what it is today or are going to rebuild it for what it will be after people move in?” Gaudet asked.

Drake defended repairing the school in full, saying the space at Brookstown Middle will get used regardless, students or no students. He also said some spaces at the middle school won’t necessarily be repaired and the school is preparing to do without them. Those include the cafeteria and auditorium, which were torched in November in what authorities say was arson.

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