WATSON, LA (WAFB) - Seventh and eighth grade students in the Live Oak community will attend a new, but somewhat familiar, campus come their first day of school on August 9. They will be welcomed to the new Live Oak Junior High at 35086 Old Highway 16 – the site that for many years was the original Live Oak High School.
The campus became dormant 2-and-a-half years ago when the new Live Oak High School campus opened on Hwy. 16, and all Live Oak students in grades 9-12 were transferred to the new site. The district initiated plans right away to fully renovate the campus and convert it into a junior high school; however, those efforts were significantly sidetracked when the August 2016 flood hit, forcing school officials to prioritize emergency needs and surmounting repairs at other populated campuses across the parish.
"While we were forced to prioritize our efforts elsewhere, we never abandoned this project. We have worked diligently with the contractor to get back on schedule to refurbish this campus so we can bring much-needed relief to the overcrowding situation in our Live Oak schools," Superintendent Rick Wentzel said.
"Much thanks and credit goes out to Principal Daniel Desselle and his staff for putting in long hours this summer to get the campus ready to open on Aug. 9," Wentzel added. "It's been a real team effort and a willingness of so many to do whatever has been needed to get the school ready."
Wentzel, Assistant Superintendent Joe Murphy and Assistant Superintendent Stephen Parrill joined Desselle, many of the school's teachers and staff, and district warehouse workers on Saturday (Aug. 5) to unload filing cabinets, desks and chairs from moving trucks and set them up in the various classrooms.
"The supply company would have set everything up, but we knew the job was too big for the movers to get everything done as quickly as we needed it. So we all showed up, rolled up our sleeves, got a little dirty and got the job done," Wentzel said. "That's been standard operating procedure around here since the flood, and it's how we're able to do what we do."
Parrill noted that the opening of Live Oak Junior High will create some grade restructuring at the other campuses in the area. Live Oak students going into 5th grade this school year will join 6th grade students at Live Oak Middle School, while the three elementary campuses – Live Oak Elementary, North Live Oak Elementary and South Live Oak Elementary – will only house students in grades Pre-K to 4th grade.
"This reconfiguration allows us to relieve overcrowding at all our lower class grades in the area," Parrill said. "By creating more educational space and improving classroom size, we can further enhance the learning environments at these schools." Parrill encouraged parents to visit the district website at www.lpsb.org to determine their child's appropriate bus route and schedule, as well as the take-in and release times at each campus.
Wentzel noted that the main campus of the new Live Oak Junior High did not flood in August 2016; so all the improvements made to the campus were part of the original reconstruction plans. The school's athletic field house and band room did suffer some minor water damage, which has been repaired, he said.
The most noticeable improvements to the campus are its new brick façade and archways, wrought iron fencing and beautified common spaces. The school also has an expanded cafeteria and band room, new library, updated classrooms with better lighting, air conditioning, and greater capacity for wireless access, as well as clean, well-lit hallways and fully-retrofitted gymnasiums that can function as community shelters in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.
"Part of our plans for this school from its inception was to work with FEMA and the Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness to upgrade the school's two gymnasiums to serve as community shelters in the event of an emergency," Wentzel said. The main gym and auxiliary gym received air conditioning, retrofitted windows and doors, and storm shutters as part of standard shelter requirements.