"Katrina gave us some lemons, so we're trying to figure out how to make lemonade for some really good families in the 28th St. school zone," said Gulfport School Superintendent Glen East.
Katrina severely wounded 28th Street Elementary, a place where generations of children were educated. That's why neighbors fought so passionately to keep the school open.
"I think there was a lot of fear that we weren't going to go back at all," East said.
East says the school will return, but not at the same site. Instead, the district found 10 acres of wooded property, about 12 blocks west of the old school.
"So we have made a decision to go ahead and build a state-of-the-art $12 to $14 million elementary school on the corner of 31st St. and 46th Avenue," East said. "It's higher above the flood plain, and it is dead center of the school zone."
East says several factors played a role in the district's decision to move. He says the current campus could eventually be boxed-in by a connector road and industries. Plus, instead of spending from $2 million to $3 million to repair 28th Street, he says it's better to pump that money into a modern building, in a growing neighborhood.
"The base is going to add 212 homes to its on-base housing, and another 82 out in the community," East said. "All of our schools open into neighborhoods."
East says the district has already spent $400,000 to purchase the property. He says the financing is in place to build the school, and the designs are ready. But there's one major obstacle. Part of the land is wetlands.
"The hurdle we're trying to do is it is a low-grade wetland, so we're trying to mitigate that," East said. "The entrance of the school will stay wetlands."
East says the project will start as soon as the Army Corps of Engineers gives it the green light.
"I look forward to the day seeing the little kindergartners get out there for the first time. More importantly I guess, the 5th grader who was at 28th Street, gets to go back to a new school. I just think that's exciting," East said. "That's what it's all about - what's best for the children."
The 28th Street Elementary students are currently attending classes at three other elementary schools in Gulfport. As for the damaged school, the district has not decided what to do with it yet. For now, the Gulfport Police Department is leasing part of the building.