DENHAM SPRINGS – No one wrote down the number, but the days of the “drive down Brown Road” for Southside Junior High and Southside Elementary will soon be over.
The unveiling Thursday of the artist’s renderings of what the combined campus of the two schools will look drew almost 250 people to the cafeteria of Juban Parc Junior High.
The winding curves of Brown Road bring Southside Elementary and Southside Junior High students to their temporary campuses behind Juban Parc Elementary and Juban Parc Junior High, respectively.
The two schools, with Denham Springs Elementary, were the three hardest-hit campuses in the Great Flood of 2016. The Federal Emergency Management Agency declared all three “substantially damaged,” meaning they could be demolished and new schools built.
FEMA will reimburse the Livingston Parish school system 90 percent of the cost and agreed that Southside Elementary could relocate to the junior high campus.
“We’re very excited for what we will be able to do for our students,” said Wes Partin, Southside Junior High principal. “My students are smiling every day.”
“The two worst days of my career was the day I walked onto my old campus (after the flood) and the day I told my school we would not return to our campus for years,” said Laura Williams, Southside Elementary principal.
“Mr. Partin and I would like to say the best is yet to come,” said Williams, herself once a student at the elementary and junior high.
“We don’t have to define learning by the four walls of a classroom,” said Joe Murphy, assistant superintendent, as he unveiled the seven renderings of the combined campus.
Southside Elementary will have a capacity for 700 students, while Southside Junior High will have space for 1,000, Murphy said.
To protect the schools from flooding again, architect Alvin Fairburn & Associates drew up three-story buildings – with no first floor.
The bottom floor will not be occupied and the exterior hides that feature.
But the bottom floor will have one use, according to Murphy.
“Teachers won’t need to carry umbrellas every day when they park,” he said, which drew a loud “Woo-hoo” from one table occupied by teachers.
A total of 125 covered spaces just for faculty and staff will be available, with controlled the access, he said.
“This will be the most perimetered, secured facility in the parish,” Murphy said.
The front of the two schools might look like one front, but is two separate entrances that mirror each other, Murphy said. Buses will drop off students in front of the schools. Car riders will be dropped off on the sides of their respective schools.
“Never shall they cross,” Murphy said.
An enclosed courtyard is in center of the complex, with a second-floor library looking down on the courtyard. The courtyard offers learning places, “an opportunity to go outside and teach a class,” Murphy said.
On the second floor also are outside learning spaces, two for each school.
Not all the space on the second floor is committed; some is being held for future expansion or needs, Murphy sad.
“It’s all about the students,” Partin said. “We wanted a 21st century learning environment.
“We wanted a classroom that allows a teacher a million different classrooms.
“Every day it could look different, whatever you’re covering that day,” he said. Each day you create a different learning environment.”
The “graveyard classroom” of the past – rows of desks with rows of students – is gone, Partin said. “Children have different learning styles.
“The definition of education here has changed,” he said.
Williams said the school will be a new experience for her students.
Her third-graders were in kindergarten in 2016 and only at Southside Elementary for a week. Her second-graders never attended the school.
Murphy himself spent a total of 14 years at Southside Junior High as a teacher, coach administrative assistant, assistant principal and principal.
He repeated what has become a mantra at flood recovery events for those affiliated with the schools.
“Once a Buc, always a Buc.”