DENHAM SPRINGS – It withstood hurricanes, floods, storms – the rare snowfall – and the energy of thousands of elementary and junior high students over the years.
It took a 40-ton crane to finally take down the flood-damaged Denham Springs Elementary School on Friday morning.
The demolition is the first step in the process that will culminate in a new school on Range Avenue, with 90 percent of the cost covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Few people were on hand to watch the clanking, rumbling machine first tear a roof into pieces, then pull down walls, pushing the debris into piles it rolled over to get to its next target.
“The flood was unexpected, but now there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Gail DeLee, principal of Denham Springs Elementary.
After beginning her school day at the temporary campus on the ground of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Hatchell Lane, DeLee returned to the Range Avenue site of her former school to watch the demolition.
She took a video of the first building to go – a temporary building that housed special education and gifted education classes.
“I sent that to those two teachers so they could see,” she said.
It took only nine minutes for the crane to make rubble of the portable building and roll on top of it.
“There we go,” DeLee said.
Demolition work was delayed 25 minutes in the chilly morning when the 40-ton crane would not start. A device attached to the crane engine to reduce emissions was not working, said Steve Miller, of Lloyd D. Nabors Demolition, of Hutchins, Texas.
“The smallest thing gets in, we have to drain it,” of five gallons of fluid, he said.
After talking to his mechanic, Miller drained the fluid, replaced it and the engine roared to life.
From his seat at the controls, Miller nudged the crane forward and began his work.
“That’s the cafeteria,” said Karen Schmitt, as the crane took a bite out of the roof.
Schmitt can recall a lifelong connection to the site, which once held Denham Springs High until it burned down in 1949 and the new building in 1950 became the junior high.
“I attended junior high here and taught here, mostly fifth and sixth grades,” said Schmitt, who recently ended her tenure on the Livingston Parish School Board when she chose not to run for re-election.
“My mother taught here. My daughters went to school here...
“... We knew this was coming. I still have mixed emotions,” Schmitt said.
“I’ve been in on the planning meetings. We will have a state-of-the-art building,” she said, a two-story structure under one roof. “I told Mrs. DeLee that it was up to her what was on the inside,” Schmitt said, but she had one strong suggestion.
“I wanted the front to blend into the Antique District. I wanted Mayberry, not Star Wars,” she said.
The new school will have a legacy from today’s DSE students, DeLee said.
“We had our second- through fifth-graders write what they would like in the school and they are using that information in the school plan,” the principal said.
One of the suggestions was a large yellowjacket – the school mascot – at the front of the school, DeLee said.
“And now it’s in the school plan,” she said.
Students also requested purple and gold in the halls, she added.
“Some want the school exactly like the old school,” DeLee said. "It’s sad, but they have a connection to the past.”
Because of the anticipated three-year period before the new school is complete, those students will be in older grades at other schools, she said.
“But they will be able to come back and see what they wrote about,” DeLee said.
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