New Denham Springs Elementary Plans Karen Schmitt,

Karen Schmitt, a former Livingston Parish School Board member, shows a line drawing of the old gym at Denham Springs Elementary, which burned down during the 1970s during unveiling of the new design of the new Denham Springs Elementary campus on Wednesday, March 13. The current multipurpose building is built on the same site, which the only building to be kept standing from before the flood.

DENHAM SPRINGS – Where they were on Aug. 13, 2016, and what they thought as floodwaters rose, was a common theme among speakers. Livingston Parish school system officials and elected officials took a step back in time in their comments during the unveiling of the design of the new Denham Springs Elementary.

School Board President Buddy Mincey Jr. still has on his cellphone a text he sent to Superintendent Rick Wentzel and other officials on Aug. 12, 2016, when the Amite River was at 42.5 feet.

Mincey read from the text the steps that were being taken to protect schools.

In the flood of 1983, the Amite River crested at 41.5 feet, he read, so everyone needed to be prepared. On Aug. 14, the river crested at 46.2 feet, Mincey said, which flooded 18 school campuses in the parish, 10 in the Denham Springs area. 

Mincey voiced the sentiments of other speakers in thanking the teachers, staff, Central Office personnel -- and parents – for the work that reopened some schools 18 days after the flood.

“It was a daunting task,” he said.

And through it all, the focus was on the parish’s children.

Assistant Superintendent Joe Murphy said, in looking at schools in other states, the goal was to “make the school a place where children want to be. We wanted to make every place in the facility a learning space.”

“They don’t learn the same way we did. … It’s not about teaching, its about learning.”

And that comes down to one important point, Murphy said.

“Nothing will ever replace good teachers.”

City Council member Laura Schmitt Smith, who attended the elementary school, gave the two-story design a thumbs up.

“It has the old-school flow in the architecture but with a new look,” Smith said.

“I like it. I like that it is sitting on the corner for the traffic flow, that’s more efficient, and facing the Antique District,” Smith said. “It will be something Denham Springs can be proud of.”

Among the observations of other dignitaries:

-- “It’s been a long journey,” said Jan Benton, a School Board member who began her teaching career at Denham Springs Elementary and once was its principal.

“I’m excited for the new 21st century design,” she said.

--"My mother said everything is an experience, some good, some not so good,” said Bradley Harris, who recently took his seat on the School Board.

“I came aboard the School Board after the flood, so I get in on the good stuff, the rebuilding,” he said.

--"Denham Springs Elementary, to me, is God’s little acre,” said Karen Schmitt, who served two terms on the School Board after teaching at the school.

“There’s the visibility” on Range Avenue, she said, that everyone could see the school as they drove by.

“There’s always been a school there, not now, but there will be one again,” she said.

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