FEMA awarding additional $112.4M to Calcasieu School Board

Published 7:34 pm Thursday, October 7, 2021

FEMA officials announced Thursday that it will grant $112.4 million in reimbursement to the Calcasieu Parish School Board for remediation costs related to 76 campuses that were damaged by Hurricane Laura last year.

The announcement came just over a week after a frustrated Calcasieu School Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus told a state Senate Education Committee that the district was still waiting to be reimbursed for $126 million spent to remediate school buildings after Laura’s landfall in August 2020. The issue forced the School Board to halt its 130 construction projects Sept. 7, with Bruchhaus saying 80 percent of the remediation cost was needed for the work, valued at $260 million, to resume.

The money must go to the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) before it is disbursed to the district. Members of the Senate Education Committee criticized GOHSEP last week for not getting the reimbursement money quickly enough to help agencies impacted by Hurricane Laura.

“We are grateful for the completion of another step in the reimbursement process,” said Holly Holland, Calcasieu School Board spokesperson. “The next step of approval rests at the state level, and we hope for additional positive news soon so that construction can resume.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said in a statement that the grant is crucial in helping Southwest Louisiana rebound from Laura’s devastation.

“This supports the remediation and emergency protective measures that ensure our children have a safe and clean place to learn,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, spoke with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell Tuesday about the Calcasieu School Board’s pending applications.

“(I) was encouraged by her personal commitment to help push these applications through the review process,” he said.

Even with the construction projects being halted, some contractors have requested to keep working, Holland said.

“They are doing so knowing the billing/payment process is delayed,” she said. “If you see repairs happening, this is why, and not because the district is simply requesting work to continue at only certain schools.”

Holland said the suspension clause is 60 days, and contractors are no longer obligated to fulfill contracts after that.

Of the $112.4 million being reimbursed, $23.7 million will pay for remediation costs at 33 campuses on the west side of the parish at a 100 percent federal cost-share. Another $25.2 million has a 90 percent federal cost-share.

Another $36 million is paying for remediation costs to 43 campuses on the parish’s east side at a 100 percent federal cost-share, with $27.4 million being reimbursed at a 90 percent federal cost-share.