Cameron Parish schools are on a fast track to reopening, but the cost is high it was reported at a special School Board meeting held last Thursday, Sept. 24, in Grand Lake. Restoration teams have been hard at work at all School Board sites since shortly after Hurricane Laura, and most school buildings are nearly ready to be turned over to the administration for permanent repairs.
Using generators, the schools have been dried out and climate controlled to prevent mold formation. Removal of storm debris, including the entrance stairs to South Cameron High School, has been completed, said Project Manager James Hoffpauir. At SCHS, ninety 30-yard dumpsters had been filled so far, and the greenhouse was to be removed by the end of the week. Diesel fuel needed for the large generators was reaching 1500 gallons per day at South Cameron, and 3000 gallons a day at Hackberry. Mitigation costs had reached $5.4 million, with another $2,450,00 in bills to arrive soon.
In a quick status report on the buildings, Johnson Bayou was reported nearly ready to be turned over to the School Board with occupancy as soon as the fire suppression system can be tested on outside power. Grand Lake was also nearly complete. Hackberry was ready to start preparing for students; it is now on regular power. Restoration should be complete at South Cameron by Oct. 1, and Hoffpauir said the new part of the building is structurally fine and ready to be used as soon as the Fire Marshal approves the alternate access plan. The sports complex, including the two gyms, is a total loss, but the new field house is fine.
The administration building third floor is ready to be turned over to the lessee, Kiewit Construction, and the second floor is moving quickly. The Bus Barn/Maintenance building should be ready this week, with generator use continuing.
Everything is in line for FEMA reimbursement, Hoffpauir said, and State Farm Insurance is assessing for flood damage. Gallagher, the Board’s insurance consulting firm, has requested $10 million in advance, and the first $1 million had already been received. The other $9 million was expected within 10 days. The Gallagher representative told Supt. Charley Lemons that Cameron Parish is the only system they have seen that is adequately insured.
Hoffpauir plans to ask FEMA to reimburse 75% of the storm deductible, which they should do if all the rules are followed. To that end, he has consulted with the Hardy, Hammonds and Sills law firm to prepare repair contracts using the emergency declaration for quick bid acceptance.
The Board took some time to consider the best action to take regarding repairs at Hackberry High School, having tabled the matter at their regular voting meeting Sept. 14. A new school has been approved for the community, and the building is in the design phase. In the interim, the Board had to decide whether to repair the old building or tear it down and bring in temporary buildings.
Demolition and lease/purchase of buildings would cost about $4 million and would have to stand through two more hurricane seasons. Temporary buildings would also have a lower insurance value, and very little resale value if purchased, based on experience at South Cameron High School after Rita and Ike. Repairs would cost about $3 million and take up to two months less.
The Board decided to repair the existing building, relocating the Pre-K into the main building since their building is gone. “It is the quickest and lowest cost option, and covered by insurance,” said Board member Joe Delcambre. Parents will be notified two weeks before school opens. “Before we can do anything, we’ve got to make permanent repairs,” Lemons reminded the Board.
Virtual School Start
Under the School Board’s plan for virtual education, the start date has been pushed back to Oct. 12. There was a delay in receiving the wireless hot spots that will be made available to students and teachers without internet, but all should be in by this week.
It is possible that Grand Lake and Johnson Bayou schools could be ready to open near that date, and members wondered whether students from other schools could attend either school while waiting. The consensus was that any Cameron Parish student can attend any Cameron Parish school, and the important thing is to get students back into face-to-face learning as quickly as possible.
School Board member Marsha Trahan said students have already been out of school for a long time because of COVID-19 and need to get back in school. “We are all going for one goal,” said Delcambre, “face-to-face learning as soon as possible, even if we have to go to an A-B schedule.”
The virtual plan will also remain in effect. “We have enough devices and hot spots to do virtual learning for those who can’t come back yet.” Lemons said.
Lemons said people have been calling the School Board office with offers to help teachers replace their supplies, but most schools except South Cameron didn’t lose supplies. He is sending those offers to the principals.
Regarding South Cameron, Lemons said a survey of parents showed that very few, “only a handful,” were not planning to return. For those students who are still displaced to other communities when their school opens, transportation will be provided to SCHS and JBHS.
Due to the previously unknown extent of restoration work needed at the various Cameron Parish schools, the Board voted to increase the dollar amount for the restoration contracts. The initial contract amount was a “rough estimate” used to get the work started, Hoffpauir said. The rates can be increased as needed, and all invoices are being checked. The SCHS gyms, for example, were worse than anticipated. There were more issues than could be seen until the companies were inside, more generators were needed, and bigger generators using much more diesel than anticipated.