On June 27 and 28, two Louisiana communities were once again able to reopen their school doors to students thanks to the cooperative efforts of FEMA, the Corps of Engineers and private industry.

The heart and soul of any town or neighborhood is its schools. Parents and guardians may work in the city but their home and lifestyle revolves around the schools that their children attend. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with its partners, helped two neighborhoods have a brighter future.

On June 27, Ecole Bilingue de la Nouvelle Orléans, located in New Orleans, held a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of its new pre-kindergarten and kindergarten buildings.

Modular Classrooms Make First Day of School a Reality for Many

Hurricane Katrina destroyed these buildings and damaged the main elementary school buildings. Repairs to the elementary school structures were finished in October and Ecole Bilingue opened its doors to their students in grades 1-5. In addition to accepting its own students, this private, non-sectarian French-language immersionschool opened its arms wide and embraced young people from other private schools in New Orleans.

The return to school helped these children return to a sense of normalcy after the chaos of Katrina. But no school can grow without new students and Ecole Bilingue is no exception.

Recognizing their need to rebuild their pre-kindergarten and kindergarten buildings, they applied to FEMA for assistance to rebuild. FEMA in turn tasked the Corps of Engineers to erect two modular buildings to fulfill Ecole Bilingue’s needs. This task was completed in approximately one month.

The completion of these classrooms gives Ecole Bilingue more than 2,680 square feet of space for children five years and younger. Each modular structure has two classrooms and each classroom has its own restroom facility. One of the modular units contains a kitchen with lunchroom.

All the units are connected by covered walkways and are handicap accessible. Brig. Gen. Robert Crear, Commander of the Mississippi Valley Division, and Mr. Pierre Lebovics, General Consul of the French Consulate in New Orleans, were the guest speakers at the ribbon cutting ceremony.

“Ecole Bilingue is a priceless asset to New Orleans,” said General Crear. “We are delighted to have been partners in restoring this great link to the city’s cultural legacy, and to the culture of our great friends and allies, the people of France.”

The next day saw another ribbon cutting ceremony at Dozier Elementary School in Erath, La. Hurricane Rita had annihilated this school, located south of Lafayette, La.. FEMA tasked the Corps to erect 28 structures to help the residents there.

The buildings consist of 24 double-wide units for administration, library, special education, janitorial, nine units for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes, and 10 for academic classrooms. They also erected a quad modular unit to be used as the school cafeteria and three single-wide units for restroom facilities. All the buildings are connected by covered walkways and are handicap accessible. More than 800 students are expected to attend classes at the new facilities in the fall of 2006.

Col. Dwight W. Pearson, LA-RFO Commander (Forward), addressed a few brief remarks to the students and their families, citing the cooperation between FEMA, the Corps of Engineers and commercial contractors.

Dozier Elementary in Vermillion parish and Ecole Bilingue in New Orleans can now begin the healing process for their children and their communities.

reprinted with permission of the author.