School Climate & Safety

Their Buildings Took a Beating, Returning School Officials Find

September 13, 2005 2 min read

Mold is growing on the carpet, chairs, tables, and walls of the Jefferson Parish school district’s main office here. But that’s only one of countless problems that David P. Taylor and Scott B. Adams were worrying about last week.

Early on the morning of Sept. 8, the two district employees climbed into a dark-green van and headed southeast from Baton Rouge to the school system adjoining New Orleans to get a better fix on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Although most headlines and TV cameras have spotlighted New Orleans, Jefferson Parish, across the Mississippi River, has plenty of headaches, too. Not only did the storm damage many of the district’s 84 schools, but its central offices took a beating as well.

After Mr. Taylor and Mr. Adams went through several sets of police and military checkpoints along Interstate 10 and smaller roads, the sight greeting them wasn’t pretty. Katrina had ripped off the roof of the district’s headquarters, and heavy rains had wrecked parts of the building. A crew was putting up a temporary roof fix to prevent further damage.

“The personnel department is wiped out,” said Mr. Adams, the district’s construction manager, while touring the building with a flashlight. Mr. Adams told Mr. Taylor, the facilities director, that the building was “at least six months away” from being habitable.

Besides visiting the district headquarters, the two dropped by the administrative annex, a massive structure offering a prime view of the New Orleans skyline from its roof that was also damaged in the storm.

Camping Out

The building wasn’t what anyone would call inviting, but for Jerome C. Payadue, it had been home since the hurricane hit. The district’s plant manager and his wife had camped out there, with a generator providing enough power to run a small TV and a toaster oven.

“He’s our eyes and ears with what’s going on here,” Mr. Adams said.

Since the storm, Mr. Payadue said, he had visited some 30 schools to get a sense of the damage.

The worst? Woodmere Elementary, he said. A drive to the school revealed pieces of the roof scattered on the grounds. Playground equipment was in tatters. The American flag was still flying, but with a gaping hole. Nearby, a dead fish lay on the ground.

Mr. Payadue understands well the force of the storm. After all, he and his wife were in the annex when it arrived.

“We got a chair, and we watched the whole thing from the back,” he said. “I stayed through the whole ordeal. I got a job to do, you know?”

A version of this article appeared in the September 14, 2005 edition of Education Week as Their Buildings Took a Beating, Returning School Officials Find

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