DENHAM SPRINGS – When she was able to get back on her school campus for the first time, Principal Gail DeLee immediately went to the front-yard sign.
The Great Flood of 2016 inundated the Range Avenue school. DeLee and school system officials knew some schools would not reopen soon.
On one side of the sign, DeLee recalled, she put the message, “The best is yet to come.” On the other side, she put, “We will be back stronger than ever.”
The principal recounted that story Wednesday as her school took a big step back with the unveiling of the design for what will be the new Denham Springs Elementary.
Four artist renderings from Ziler Architects were on display, two showing an overhead view of the campus and two offering a front view.
Listening in the cafeteria of the school’s temporary campus on Hatchell Lane were a host of people: Superintendent Rick Wentzel and school system officials; School Board President Buddy Mincey Jr. and other board members; and Mayor Gerard Landry and City Council members.
Assistant Superintendent Joe Murphy, one of several speakers, provided details of the new elementary school.
The new campus will house 700 students, Murphy said, and contain 80,000 square feet — up from the 55,000 square feet in the now-demolished buildings.
The main building will be two stories – “The first two-story elementary in Livingston Parish,” he said.
“There will be collaborative spaces in the halls,” Murphy said, where “small groups can go to learn.”
A playground area will be behind the school and from the library, students will be able to look out onto the playground, he added.
“But it’s not about being pretty,” Murphy said. “It’s about 21st century learning.”
The schedule is to go out for bids in October, with the school to be ready in August 2021, he said.
“I’m grateful they included me in the planning,” said DeLee, the principal who saw her students housed immediately after the flood at Freshwater, Northside and Eastside elementary schools before being reunited on Hatchell Lane.
“It’s great to tell everybody, ‘It’s coming,’’’ she said before the ceremony. “I think when the other building was torn down, it was a signal it was happening.
“We talked to other elementaries with two stories and they loved it. They felt it did a great job for them,” she said.
Pre-K and first grade students will be on the first floor of the new building and the second through fifth grades will be on the second floor, she said.
“It will be completely wireless,” DeLee said, “We will have the ability to be portable and move computers to the classrooms.”
Wentzel said the school system knew how much the school meant to its community in Denham Springs.
“Some people are emotionally attached,” he said. “I heard from people, they said, ‘I went there in the first grade, second grade.
“They appreciate we had the opportunity to build there on that site again.”