Fire damage to Eastside Elementary may top $125,000

Tangipahoa Parish school system officials expect fire damage repairs at Hammond Eastside Elementary School to cost more than $125,000, which will require a court motion requesting permission for the repairs, Superintendent Mark Kolwe said Friday.

The School Board has to file court motions for approval of any school repairs over $125,000 because of the board’s decades-old desegregation lawsuit, Kolwe said.

But the school system will keep moving forward with repairs and expects classes will start at the school Aug. 19 once the building’s intact parts are cleared for use, Kolwe said.

Classes begin in the rest of the parish Monday.

School system officials expected to start repairs Friday afternoon, Kolwe said.

“We’re moving forward here regardless,” Kolwe said. “We would hope the court would sign off on that here shortly.”

The School Board’s motion, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, requests an expedited approval to start repairs and locate three temporary buildings at the school for any “immediate educational needs.”

The motion says Nelson Taylor, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the desegregation case, has told School Board attorney Ashley Sandage that the plaintiffs oppose the motion.

Taylor said Friday that while he does not oppose the motion, he registered his opposition to it in order to try to gather more information about the fire damage before the school system rushes into any decisions.

Taylor said he wants the school system to inform him about its plans and what effects they may have on Hammond Eastside students when they finally begin attending classes.

“I’m not opposing anything,” Taylor said. “I’m trying to find out what the facts are.”

Sandage said Friday that Taylor told her Thursday over the phone that he was opposing the motion.

Sandage said she has asked Taylor to call her back and that she had been unable to reach him Friday.

Court records indicate U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle will hold a hearing on the motion Sept. 4.

The School Board met in emergency session Friday morning to discuss the damage at Hammond Eastside.

The board approved resolutions declaring an emergency at the school so a contractor could be hired to make the needed repairs, Kolwe said.

The board also voted to allow the school system to set up temporary buildings that would be available for use by any employees displaced by the fire, Kolwe said.

The school system places about five days worth of additional instructional minutes in its calendar for emergencies such as this, Kolwe said.

Meanwhile, the school system has begun notifying parents about the delay in the school’s start time, Kolwe said.

Firefighters arrived at Hammond Eastside, 45050 River Road, around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to find flames coming from an administrative office, Hammond Fire Chief John Thomas has said.

Faculty and staff were at the school for meetings when the fire was reported, but already had evacuated the building by the time firefighters arrived, Thomas said. No students were on campus, and nobody was injured.

The fire was contained to the office, but the room received a “considerable amount of damage,” Thomas said. Smoke did travel through classrooms and hallways.

Foul play is not suspected in the blaze, Thomas said.

While the fire itself was contained to the office, smoke reached the attic and damaged other parts of the building, Kolwe has said.

Kolwe has said a substantial amount of the school’s ceiling tiles will have to be replaced because of smoke damage.