Renovations to Istrouma High School got underway in early November, but school officials Wednesday morning held a ceremonial groundbreaking to commemorate the revival of this north Baton Rouge institution.

While school employees and Istrouma supporters looked on, seven East Baton Rouge Parish School Board members and Superintendent Warren Drake, all wearing hard hats, plunged golden shovels into a pile of dirt piled in front of the high school just for this occasion.

“This school is going to transform this part of town,” Drake said.

School Board President Barbara Freiberg noted that “people said it couldn’t be done.”

“All you have to do is look at the word ‘impossible?’” she said. “It really means, ‘I am possible.’”

Istrouma High School was taken over by the state in 2012 after years of poor academic performance. The state closed the school soon after in May 2014, sparking protests.

Reopening the school became a high priority for many alumni and north Baton Rouge civic leaders. The closing coincided with the closing of other schools in north Baton Rouge closed, most notably Redemptorist High School.

Drake, who took over as superintendent in June 2015, finally persuaded the state the following January to return control of Istrouma to the school system. It’s scheduled to reopen in August.

Jacqueline Mims, who is co-chair of a community advisory committee working to support the revived high school, said she was brimming with excitement Wednesday despite the dreary weather.

“It will give our children back a sense of community,” said Mims, who used to represent the area when she served on the School Board.

Istrouma High School first opened in 1917, making it almost a century old; it moved into its current home at 3730 Winbourne Ave. in 1951. Like a lot of north Baton Rouge, the neighborhoods around the school began to decline economically in 1970s as families moved out to more distant suburbs. The once all white school over time became almost all black.

The new Istrouma will actually be two schools in one, high school and a middle school. The goal is to revive not just the historic high school, but also Istrouma Middle Magnet School, a once prominent school which closed in 2004. To do that, the magnet program at Brookstown Middle is to become the nucleus of a new Istrouma Middle Magnet School.

Adonica Duggan, a spokeswoman for the school system, said starting in January the school system is going to look for leaders for the two schools.

Ruston-based Lincoln Builders is the general contractor for the Istrouma renovations. The work is proceeding in two phases. Improvements to the high school are first and set to be done by August. The work on the middle school is second won’t be done until the following January. Middle school students won’t move in until then.

Twenty-three classrooms, three computer labs and two science labs are getting makeovers as well as the library, media center, health center and a new community meeting room.

The overall project budget for restoring Istrouma High is about $21.4 million. The money comes from a 1-cent sales tax, first approved by voters in 1998, which funds most school construction. The cost could increase by another $2.9 million on Thursday night if the School Board approves additional renovations to upgrade Istrouma’s football field, concessions stand, press box and track. Drake pressed school staff to find money for the upgrades. He plans to draw the added $2.9 million also from the 1-cent sale tax.

Ed Jenkins is program director with CSRS/Tillage Construction, which oversees most construction for the school system. Jenkins said he’s pushing to have the athletic renovations done by September, in time for football season, but said it will depend on weather and other factors.

Jenkins promised a school that will catch people’s attention.

“It’s going to look brand new,” Jenkins said. “It won’t look like this.”

Eric Brown, who co-chairs the advisory committee with Mims, is a 1988 graduate of Istrouma High who volunteered for decades, until the school closed.

“The same needs they had when they closed down the schools were there back in 1985 and 1986,” Brown said.

Brown, however, expressed concern about how many students will enroll initially. He noted that several north Baton Rouge neighborhoods near the school were inundated during the historic flooding in August and they are slow to come back.

“It’s got me scared,” Brown said. “It really does.”

Lamond Green, a 2013 Istrouma High graduate, is less concerned. He said he has friends who are interested in the new Istrouma and doesn’t think the flooding will be that big an issue.

“They’re going to want to come back,” Green said. “When they see it’s a new school they will want to come back.”

Duggan, with the school system, said school officials are surveying current students who live in the old Istrouma High attendance zone to see which ones want to come back.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier