DENHAM SPRINGS, LA (WAFB) - Rebuilding the school district in Livingston Parish was a top priority after the flood of 2016. It’s been a lot of hard work to this point, with still some more to come.
“Nothing compares to that," said Livingston Parish Superintendent Rick Wentzel. "Probably the worst thing I’ve ever dealt with in my life, quite honestly.”
“Without a doubt, that is the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my professional career,” added Denham Springs High Principal Kelly Jones.
Those are the voices of educators in Livingston Parish. Like so many in August of 2016, water had become their world. They were forced to deal with flooding in their personal lives and flooding at work. But their work involves little lives as well. And making sure those kids, those students, had whatever they needed became the priority. But it was going to be very difficult.
“When we saw what kind of damage was done, it was very emotional. And then, the idea of where we go from here,” Jones added.
Denham Springs High was one of 18 school sites in the parish that flooded. As of May 3, 2019, all but three sites have been repaired. Those three had to be torn down completely but will soon be rebuilt. About 26,000 students and their families were impacted in some way. About 1,500 students moved out of the area, but they have come back.
“Today, three years later, we’re sitting at the same number that we had. I expect next year to move beyond 26,000 students,” Wentzel explained.
One of those schools torn down was Denham Springs Elementary. The teachers there will tell you they love their temporary setup. The huge rooms and indoor hallways don’t feel temporary, which is what matters when it comes to making the little ones feel secure and confident. But they are ready to move back home. They believe it will happen by summer of 2021.
“The only kids who will be on our permanent campus, whoever set foot on the former campus, is the group that was in kindergarten,” said Denham Springs Elementary Principal Gail Delee.
That’s a long time. The original sites of Denham Springs Elementary, Southside Elementary, and Southside Junior High are sitting empty right now. But they will rise again, proving this resilient community is just getting started.
“We will be back stronger than ever. The best is yet to come,” Delee added.
“We’re coming out of this stronger than ever and we truly are,” Jones noted.
“The flood was a minor setback. This parish is continuing to rise. We are stronger than ever,” said Wentzel.