Ascension Parish School Board eyes flood insurance

Advocate staff photo by David J. Mitchell --School buses are parked under a covered area for pickup Monday afternoon at Galvez Primary School. The school is one of 12 Ascension Parish public school facilities set to have flood insurance for the first time next month. School officials said they have been preparing for the past few years to begin insuring buildings but recent congressional changes to the National Flood insurance Program that may take effect Oct. 1 have provided extra incentive. Only schools deemed to be most in need of flood insurance are part of the plan. The School Board votes on the insurance Tuesday night.
Advocate staff photo by David J. Mitchell --School buses are parked under a covered area for pickup Monday afternoon at Galvez Primary School. The school is one of 12 Ascension Parish public school facilities set to have flood insurance for the first time next month. School officials said they have been preparing for the past few years to begin insuring buildings but recent congressional changes to the National Flood insurance Program that may take effect Oct. 1 have provided extra incentive. Only schools deemed to be most in need of flood insurance are part of the plan. The School Board votes on the insurance Tuesday night.

The Ascension Parish School Board will consider buying flood insurance for the LeBlanc Special Services Center in Gonzales and selected buildings on 11 of its 28 school campuses for the first time Tuesday.

If approved, the policy would provide $23 million in coverage for 51 buildings at a cost of $216,053, according to a district calculations. The move toward buying flood insurance has been building for years, particularly following Hurricane Gustav in 2008 and Hurricane Isaac last year, but it gained focus when Congress adopted the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act in July 2012.

Among its elements, the law would eliminate grandfathering provisions in the National Flood Insurance Program, having the effect of quickly raising flood insurance rates as much as 25 percent annually for several years.

“Gustav was kind of a wake-up call for us and the hurricane last year was an even bigger walk-up call,” said Angie Peraza, school system risk manager.

“Most people don’t realize had that hurricane came a little bit more to the west, it wouldn’t have been LaPlace under water, it would have been us.”

About 70 percent of the parish is inside the 100-year floodplain, according to an Amite River Basin Commission estimate. The floodplain is a low-lying area with at least a 1 percent chance of flooding during any year.

With hurricanes and Biggert-Waters in mind, school system officials did a months-long review of the most at-risk campuses.

The system hired surveyors to verify the height of some school buildings relative to the 100-year floodplain.

The review narrowed down school campuses with buildings most in need of insurance, including East Ascension High School and Spanish Lake Primary School, which opened in fall 2009.

The review also led to surprises, particularly when school system officials found out Galvez Primary School, built in 1986, is 3 feet below the 100-year flood elevation, or base flood elevation. Since 1997, parish government rules have required new construction be 1 foot higher than the base flood elevation.

“Galvez Primary is one of the main concerns,” Peraza said of the insurance push.

School Board President Troy Gautreau said that on the advice of Peraza and other officials, the board will buy insurance in an attempt to lock in rates in the event key parts of Biggert-Waters take effect Oct. 1.

“They felt this was something that we needed to have,” Gautreau said Monday.

Peraza said if approved Tuesday, the policy would take effect 30 days later, or roughly on Sept. 22.

Bret Hughes, president of Hughes Insurance Services of Gonzales, said a lot of uncertainty surrounds Biggert-Waters and whether grandfathering of rates remains.

But having insurance in place before Oct. 1 ensures the school system has lower rates for at least one year and preserves a chance to grandfather rates in the future, he said.

“If you don’t have a policy in place prior to Oct. 1, there is no grandfathering because you never had” a policy, said Hughes, whose firm is handling the insurance.

Gautreau, who has been on the board 10 years, said he is not sure why the system never had flood insurance. But he said board members in the past have counted on the federal government to help with the worst storms.

School officials said the policy would have $500,000 in coverage for each building and $50,000 to $100,000 for contents, enough to help repair and replace ruined floors.

Buildings at the following school campuses would have flood insurance for the first time next month, pending a School Board vote Tuesday: East Ascension High School; Duplessis Primary School; Dutchtown Primary School; Galvez Primary School; Gonzales Primary School; LeBlanc Special Services Center; Oak Grove Primary School; Prairieville Middle School; St. Amant High School; St. Amant Middle School; St. Amant Primary School; and Spanish Lake Primary School.