Flood repairs still underway at Livingston Parish schools 3 weeks before classes

Southside Elementary (Source: WAFB)
Southside Elementary (Source: WAFB)
Southside Elementary (Source: WAFB)
Southside Elementary (Source: WAFB)
Superintendent Rick Wentzel at Southside Elementary (Source: WAFB)
Superintendent Rick Wentzel at Southside Elementary (Source: WAFB)

LIVINGSTON PARISH, LA (WAFB) - With just weeks to go before the bell rings, some schools that flooded in Livingston Parish in August of 2016 are just about out of time to make repairs. Others remain in limbo.

Southside Elementary on Range Ave. took on several feet of water during the flood. However, while work has been done to dry out the facility, little has been done to rebuild. School leaders are waiting on FEMA to determine whether it would be worth it to pay for repairs or if it would be better to just tear the building down and start anew.

During the flood, electric panels and outlets were destroyed. That only further upped costs. Southside Junior High and Denham Springs Elementary are also in question.

"The sooner we can find out, the sooner we can start putting plans together to get our students back to their original sites," said Superintendent Rick Wentzel. "Are we going to be rebuilding here or are we going to repair?"

For now, Southside Elementary students will be having class about a 15 minute drive away, at a large group of mobile homes located at Juban Parc Elementary.

Parish-wide, the school system has spent about $45 million on repairs so far. That total pales in comparison, however, to the estimated $120 million price tag for flood recovery. Even though FEMA will repay about 90 percent of the costs, Wentzel says they cannot afford to put up all the money at once.

"That reimbursement factor, it can go anywhere from three months to a year. So we have to be strategic about what we do, what's most important," said Wentzel.

Repairs are still wrapping up at three schools, though they should be complete before the 2017-18 school year begins. Another five schools will start the year as a work in progress, with floor repairs and new cabinets still needed.

"Think of one home and how much trouble they were having getting cabinets," he said. "We have one school with 30 classrooms, plus administrative areas and libraries that have to have all those cabinets redone."

And it's not just buildings that need repairs. Sixty-one school buses were lost during the storm. Wentzel says they should be replaced in the coming weeks.

However, despite a tough year, there is some good news as well. Wentzel says registration is higher than expected at certain schools. They lost about 600 students system-wide after the flood.

"This parish has shown resiliency. People are strong and they're proud. Don't tell people 'no' in this parish. They're going to do what they have to to come back," he said.

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