Long Beach Close To Building New Elementary School

LONG BEACH (WLOX) -- "Every door and every unit is an external door, and we just worry about security measures," Principal Eddie Holmes said, as he demonstrated his state-of-the-art security equipment.

The cameras help Holmes keep a close eye on his exposed campus in Long Beach. With 23 trailers to watch over and 400 students to protect, that's not always easy.

"I think I'll feel a lot better when we're all under one roof," said Holmes.

Soon, students and teachers at Harper McCaughan Elementary will be in a safer, permanent home. The district has finished designs for the new, spacious 80,000 square foot building. It replaces the old school, that was destroyed by Katrina.

"It has a wonderful media center, and computer lab that's really second-to-none. We're really proud and excited about what we hope to see," said Holmes. "After Katrina, we knew we probably are going to rebuild. I never imagined that it would be something that we're looking at here."

Harper McCaughan has educated generations of children in Long Beach. So there's a lot of sentimental value attached to the old school site on Jeff Davis Avenue. District leaders say if they build back on the same spot, insurance costs would be too high, and the property is just not big enough for the new design. Instead, the school will relocate to property the district owns between Commission and Pineville Roads.

"Reality tells us we have to move on and go to the next step. The next step is a wonderful school on a new site, and just completely start over," Holmes said.

It took a-year-and-a-half for the school district to get permission from FEMA to tear down the old, destroyed Harper McCaughan. Questions over flood insurance costs and relocation funding also held-up the rebuilding process.  Holmes is eager for the building to begin.

"Seeing the plans has got everybody's hopes up, but I think they will be further excited when they actually see the ground work beginning," Holmes said.

The new school is expected to cost about $18 million. About $16 million from FEMA will help fund the project. The school district is still negotiating with FEMA to help pay for the infrastructure, like water, sewer and roads that lead to the new campus.

If all goes as planned, the new Harper McCaughan School should open in the fall of 2009.