Isaac damage to Lusher High School’s Fortier building shows urgency of need for renovations, officials say

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Broken windows and water leaks contributed to uncertainty last week as to when Lusher High School students could return after Hurricane Isaac, and even now that the immediate damage has been repaired, the experience reinforces the need for major upcoming renovations to the old Fortier building, school officials said Saturday morning.

“When we get a hard rain, water comes in,” said Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger at a Saturday morning meeting of the school’s governing board.

Water intrusion through the windows, outer walls and roof is a major problem even in normal storms, and Lusher officials made a concerted plea to state and Orleans Parish officials through the last school year to allocate federal Katrina-rebuilding money to correct the problem. Ultimately, Lusher got a green light for the repairs, and have recently been meeting with Orleans Parish officials to define exactly what will be renovated.

At their most recent meeting, Orleans Parish committed to sealing the windows and the leaking outer bricks, replacing the roof and the central air conditioning unit, Riedlinger said — all the major items Lusher was requesting to bring the school to the state standard of “warm, safe and dry.” But the timeline for those repairs has yet to be established, and Hurricane Isaac demonstrated the urgency of the need for them.

The storm blew out a number of windows in the Fortier building, especially on the eastern side of the building where winds were the strongest. Rain also came in through all the usual leaks, leaving large puddles on the floor, but fortunately no actual flooding, reported principal Wiley Ates during the Lusher school board’s Saturday morning meeting.

Custodial crews arrived at the building on Thursday and were able to mop up the water, preventing any major structural damage to the floors, Ates said. Teachers had moved all sensitive computer equipment away from the walls and windows, anticipating the water, so none of it was damaged. Until power was restored Sunday evening, Lusher officials were unsure if they’d be able to finish cleaning in time for students to return to the campus Tuesday.

On Saturday morning, the board passed a resolution commending the faculty and staff for their efforts getting the school back online so quickly.

Because Lusher’s school calendar includes more time in class than the state requires, the school may not technically need make-up days following the storm. The school’s academic team may decide to have some make-up days anyway, likely before state testing starts in the spring.

“Even though we had the minutes, losing five instructional days is a lot, so we’re looking for ways to recoup some of that instructional time,” Riedlinger said.

Home for the JCC students
Also on Saturday morning, the board was asked about the search for a permanent home for the students at the school’s expansion campus at the Jewish Community Center by Tory Taylor, a parent there. That effort remains one of the board’s most urgent priorities, replied board president Blaine LeCesne.

“The problem is, there’s no suitable space we’ve uncovered yet that we would want to put our children in,” he said.

In 2010 and 2011, two sections of kindergarten were admitted to the JCC campus each year, making 100 students who are now in first and second grades. No new kindergarten students were admitted this year for lack of space, and Taylor asked if the list of possible locations has been so exhausted that the 100 students currently there will simply stay through the fifth grade.

Riedlinger said she was not prepared to make that statement. She is constantly getting calls about possible locations and checking in with others who might have property, she said.

“Everybody knows I’m looking,” Riedlinger said.

LeCesne said the school board was aware of this possibility when they agreed to expand to the JCC two years ago, but felt the risk was worth it in order to give even 100 more students the opportunity to have a Lusher education. The competition is difficult as other charter schools are searching for similar facilities, board members said, but assured Taylor that it was a priority.

“We are desperately trying to find additional space,” LeCesne added.

Taylor thanked the board for the update.

“Two years ago we made the calculation you just described,” Taylor said to LeCesne. “But our kids are getting older, older than we thought they would be in this facility.”

In a separate action, the board approved a resolution affirming that siblings of current JCC students will receive the same kindergarten admissions preferences as students at other campuses. When there is a new facility, the JCC siblings will have preference there, but until then, they will receive preference at the Willow Street campus, the board decided.

To read our live coverage of Saturday’s meeting, see below.

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