The situation was difficult for everyone involved, including administration, board members, even the legislative delegation.
But in the end, it was the right call.
With substantial damage designation on Southside Junior High, Elementary, and Denham Springs Elementary, the school board is going to make out like bandits… financially, anyway. All told, the new campuses will total over $80 million in new real estate with buildings that are up to current code standards, and won’t flood in the future.
The cost? A few million of additions during the design phase that were outside of FEMA’s scope of work, and time for some students which will not be spent at those main locations.
It wasn’t easy, no, but in a recent letter to the parish council one man described it aptly, ‘Easy decisions aren’t hard, and hard decisions aren’t easy.’
The journey wasn’t easy, either – now Superintendent Joe Murphy spent years arguing with FEMA over just a few inches of water, the total square footage of certain buildings, how much each campus was worth, and the difference between FEMA regulations and HUD regulations.
For instance, while FEMA requires base flood plus one foot for the bottom of the structure, HUD requires base flood plus two feet. In order to make sure the school system received the appropriate amount of money? The buildings had to go to base flood plus two feet, which required new engineering specs and, of course, more money.
The other part of that journey was outside pressure. Two questions, specifically, rang out just about every week for several years after the flood – why haven’t they rebuilt those schools?
Why aren’t we getting a new school?
Both questions can be answered by a discussion between the school board members and the administration at the time. It was the recommendation of the administration, that the Denham Springs school board members agreed, to move forward with having the campuses declared substantially damaged and moving on with FEMA and HUD to create new schools.
During that discussion, it was established that any extra funds would come from the Denham Springs district’s portion of the school construction tax.
Because of course it would.
The school board divides their collections for their 1.5 cents sales tax among to the areas that originally collected the taxes. The millage rates are tied to the buildings which produced the taxes.
What that leads to is any dollars spent outside the FEMA & HUD combo grants will come straight from the coffers of the Denham Springs portion of the sales tax and maintenance funds to finish construction of the new campuses.
In the end, the school board administration and Denham Springs school board members took a lemon in the flood, and made lemonade for pennies on the dollar.
If that isn’t good stewardship of money, I don’t know what is.
J. McHugh David is editor and publisher of the Livingston Parish News.