DENHAM SPRINGS – Two-story buildings and an effort to improve traffic conditions are coming for Denham Spring area schools that are being rebuilt, said Buddy Mincey Jr., president of the Livingston Parish School Board.
Mincey outlined the plans for Denham Springs Elementary, Southside Elementary, and Southside Junior High to the Denham Springs Kiwanis Club on Thursday, Jan. 31.
Superintendent Rick Wentzel was scheduled to address the club but had another engagement, Mincey said.
The two elementary sites — which are being demolished after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved replacing them — will be in two-story buildings, Mincey said.
Denham Spring Elementary has a “real estate restriction” – there is no land to expand onto – so “to get the campus we want, we need a two-story building,” Mincey said.
Southside Elementary’s new site, on the tract with Southside Junior High, will require fill to raise the elevation, “so it’s more responsible to do a two-story than one-story,” he said. To meet the Americans with Disabilities Act, the two-story buildings will have elevators, he added after an audience member inquired.
Traffic is an issue on both campuses, Mincey said, which is why wrap-around driveways inside the campuses are planned.
“We will be working with (state Rep. J. Rogers) Pope and (state Sen. Dale) Erdey for a capital outlay project for turning lanes at the Southside campuses,” he said. All three schools are currently in the design stage.
Denham Springs Elementary will be put out on bid in July, with construction to start August, he said. Southside Elementary should go out on bid in August, with construction to start in September.
All three campuses should be complete by June 2021, Mincey said.
“That’s just a target; we’re still in the design process, but we feel we can make it,” he said. “I’m happy to report 18 sites that flooded are all repaired,” he continued, with only the three schools slated for demolition left.
In Denham Springs alone, 10 campuses flooded, Mincey said, and seven have been repaired.
Denham Springs Elementary's campus will have everything removed except for its multipurpose building, he said. At Southside Elementary, two buildings stay – the multipurpose building, a $614,000 investment built in 2011, Mincey said, and another building with 3½ classrooms, a restroom and a cafeteria that was only “used a week before the flood."
At Southside Junior High, everything is being demolished except for the band room, another $600,000 investment the school got to use for only three weeks.
Southside Elementary’s former site will become the Denham Spring High School STEM and Robotic Center, Mincey said, the only program of its kind in Livingston Parish.
The curriculum is being developed for a director-teacher, three teachers and a graduate assistant from LSU. The center will offer two paths: pre-engineering and digital design and emergent media, he said.
“They are projecting at least 100 students. I think it will be more,” Mincey said. He cited how Denham Springs High projected 75 students to enroll when the Marine Corps ROTC program began. It enrolled 167.
The cost of flood recovery also has not been small.
“To date, we’ve spent $85 million to $87 million in flood repairs,” Mincey said. “Right now, we’ve submitted $83.5 million for reimbursement (to FEMA), and we’ve gotten $27.3 million from them."
The board also bonded $39 million to help pay for repairs.
“We anticipate the funds will come in,” he added, with FEMA covering 90 percent of the costs and the federal Department of Health and Urban Development covering the other 10 percent.
The architects are finalizing the 2-foot elevation required by FEMA, he said.
“If we do what FEMA tells us, we will be 2 feet above the base flood elevation," he said. “Once these three campuses are completed, we will never have to worry about flooding."
“We had our share of destruction, but with that comes opportunity,” Mincey said. “We were in good shape before the flood,” he said, and after the remodeling and renovations, “We’re in better shape.”
“The flood has been devastating personally, to residents, businesses and to the school system; it was tough,” Mincey said. “There’s a lot of memories at these schools, and big investments from us as taxpayers.
“I assure you the superintendent and his staff, the employees are totally committed to making the Livingston Parish system STRONGER THAN EVER,” he said, borrowing the school system's motto.
Mincey himself and two of his daughters are graduates of Denham Springs High School, he said.
“I’m (also) a product of this school system. It prepared us for life.”