Louisiana Parish Considers Flood Walls to Protect Schools

September 30, 2014

School officials in Vermilion Parish, La., are moving ahead with plans for a concrete wall and pump system to protect more of the parish’s schools from floodwaters.

The Advocate reports the latest project calls for spending $2.8 million to erect a concrete wall more than five feet high and install a pump system to protect Erath High and the adjacent Erath Middle School. The project is the fourth FEMA-funded flood wall project designed to protect schools in the coastal parish from flooding.

Vermilion Parish school leaders know firsthand the perils of coastal flooding and the impact on the school buildings and the lives sheltered inside. Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008 pushed water in some schools across the coastal parish.

Schools in Erath were closed and a campus-sharing system began for about six months with students at closed schools attending classes on campuses that didn’t flood on an alternating, three-day-week schedule.

Following Ike, construction began on a flood protection wall for Dozier Elementary in Erath. Following Rita, the school was closed, and eventually classes were held in FEMA buildings while Dozier was remodeled and renovated.

Rebuilding the school was an option – but not the best financial one, said Vermilion Parish Superintendent Jerome Puyau. He was the district’s facilities manager from early 2006 until he was named superintendent about six years later.

“The key component was we had to look at what the cost was to rebuild. What was the most cost-efficient – was it to rebuild or how to best protect the school. It was more cost-effective to build a wall than tear down and rebuild the school,” Puyau said.

Next came construction of a wall more than five feet high for 7th Ward Elementary. The wall protects the campus on three sides, with a 12-foot-tall earthen embankment offering protection at the back of the school.

Part-wall, part-earthen berm also offers protection at a third school – Forked Island Elementary. A fourth of the campus is protected by a concrete wall while the remainder of the campus is surrounded by an earthen berm.

FEMA funded 100 percent of the first three projects. FEMA is funding 75 percent of the Erath Middle and High schools’ wall with the Vermilion Parish School Board covering the remaining costs, said Gene Sellers, the project’s engineer.

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