A Year After Tornado, Insurers Still Assessing Olla, La., School

November 25, 2005

A year after tornadoes tore up Olla, La., the auditorium at LaSalle High School still has no roof. Boards cover school windows; the gym door swings open with each gust of wind. The building has been gutted, but no other work has been done.

The insurance company is still assessing damage, LaSalle Parish Schools Superintendent Cary McGuffee told the Associated Press. He expects that to be done within two weeks.

Meanwhile, the school’s 200 students – including some Hurricane Katrina refugees – are going to school in a former garment factory pressed into education service after the tornado hit Oct. 23, 2004.

Sophomore Hilaree Guin said she’d like to see a new school building before she graduates.

“We wonder if we are ever going to get into a new school,” she said. “We are not holding our breaths.”

The Holloway Building is noisier than other schools. Makeshift walls divide the rooms, which have no doors to close. You can hear history discussions in the math classroom.

During breaks, students mingle in open areas that also serve as hallways.

“We are making it work,” principal Rhonoda Richardson said.

Guin and McGuffee both had thought the school would be rebuilt by now.

Hurricanes – both the four that hit Florida last year before the tornado, and Katrina and Rita this year – are part of the reason for the delays, Richardson said.

Once the school board knows how much insurance will pay, it must decide whether to remodel the existing building or to demolish it and rebuild, McGuffee said.

He doesn’t expect construction to take long once a decision is made and bids are taken.

Mayor Ray Miller said he has been told a school building could be finished sometime in 2007.

“We were just thankful to have the Holloway Building available,” Miller said. “We want to keep our school in the community. It is important to this town.”

Brothers Jarvis, 17, and Jordell Taylor, 16, and their 14-year-old niece, Jasmine Taylor, all Katrina evacuees, weren’t sure what they were looking at when they walked into the building now serving as LaSalle High.

“I wasn’t impressed when I first came here,” Jordell said. “I didn’t know a tornado had forced them out of their old school. I understood after that.”

Last year, the brothers played football for Boothville-Venice, which knocked LaSalle out of the playoffs. They’re on LaSalle’s team this year.

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