Site intact after Hurricane Rita but was closed due to declining enrollment after storm
When Hurricane Rita slammed into southwest Louisiana in September 2005, many of the homes and businesses in the small community of Pecan Island were either flooded or lifted off their foundations and carried miles away.
One building the water didn’t invade was the Pecan Island School, a sturdy concrete structure built in 1962 for grades one through 12 on the highest spot of the coastal ridge.
But because of declining enrollment after the storm, Vermilion Parish closed the school and bused the remaining children northward. And then the duck hunters moved south.
When the School Board put the Pecan Island School up for sale three years ago, brothers David John and Peter John of Lafayette decided to transform the old school into a duck lodge, converting the classrooms into bedrooms and updating the massive kitchen and bathrooms while keeping the old schoolroom style.
One classroom was reincarnated into a game room, and a back patio overlooking the northside marshes now contains removable Plexiglas so visitors can sit and enjoy the quiet.
And it’s so quiet.
It’s one of the reasons the Johns have been slow in promoting the Pecan Island School Lodge for lease.
“We never committed to the plan (to lease as a duck lodge) because we’re having too much fun as a camp,” David John said.
Even though the school didn’t sustain much damage, the restoration was major.
“It never flooded, but it had been neglected since 2005,” David John said. “They had just shut the doors and let it sit.”
The solid construction, copper wiring, stainless steel appliances and other features made it worth restoring.
“It’s a typical government building where they didn’t spare any expense,” David John explained. “Everything was very precise. We were able to tap into the existing plans.”
The brothers own the original drawings to the structure, which made renovations easier.
In addition to the main building, they have renovated the gymnasium, locker rooms and baths, keeping the original championship banners hanging from the rafters.
“The locals like it,” David John said of preserving the original gym. “It makes them feel that we’re protecting local history.”
An Olympic pool lies just beyond, a future project for the Johns, and outside the property are renovated tennis courts, a hothouse for growing herbs and vegetables for use in lodge meals, and a track that circles the property.
At the front of the building, visitors can relax in rocking chairs and view the southside marshes.
“You always have a little breeze here,” David John said.
The kitchen appears much as it did when children poured through — a dining area with two walls of windows overlooking lush marshland and live oak trees.
Most of the people who use the property have been family, friends and business clients, David John said, but future plans call for more leasing to groups.
The brothers are selective because visitors sleep in relatively close quarters and enjoy meals together.
They aim to keep families and more rowdy groups separate.
The lodge offers a complete meal service, with Will Burch on site as “headmaster.”
Most people who visit the lodge come for the duck hunting, which is only 10 to 15 minutes away, David John explained.
In addition, fishing is excellent to the rear of the property and “due south from here in the Gulf.”
“I’ve caught hundreds of fish sitting there,” he said, pointing to a stretch of levee about 100 yards in the back. “Catch until you’re tired. It’s amazing.”
What makes Pecan Island School Lodge unique, David John says, is the variety of offerings in a historic building where children’s handprints and art school murals line the walls.
Those in the group who’d rather shoot skeet, play tennis or bird watch will enjoy the visit as much as the hunters.
“That’s what this place offers that most other camps don’t offer…we offer everything,” he said.
For information on the Pecan Island School Lodge, visit pecanislandschoollodge.com.