Judge OKs repair of fire damage at Hammond school

A federal judge has advised the Tangipahoa Parish School Board to proceed with repairs to fire-damaged Hammond Eastside Elementary Magnet School and also to move a temporary building onto the campus.

The school district had asked the court for permission to make the repairs while preparing the intact but smoke-damaged parts of the building in time for the start of classes on Monday, Aug. 19, Superintendent Mark Kolwe said.

Classes began at the rest of Tangipahoa Parish’s public schools on Monday of this week.

School system officials expect fire damage repairs at Hammond Eastside Elementary School to cost more than $125,000.

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.

The order to move forward with the repairs, which U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle signed Monday, was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court.

The School Board had requested an expedited approval to start repairs and locate temporary buildings after an Aug. 7 blaze caused extensive damage to an administrative area.

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

Nelson Taylor, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the desegregation case, said in court documents that the plaintiffs did not oppose the motion as long as they received enough information about the planned repairs.

Lemelle ordered the School Board to give the plaintiffs said information within 14 days of his order being issued.

The School Board on Aug. 9 declared an emergency at Hammond Eastside so a contractor could be hired to make the needed repairs, which are underway, Kolwe said.

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

Lemelle also granted the School Board’s motion to expand Hammond Eastside Magnet Elementary to include seventh- and eighth-grade students, Kolwe said.

Firefighters arrived at Hammond Eastside on River Road around 8:30 a.m. Aug. 7 to find flames coming from an administrative office, Hammond Fire Chief John Thomas has said.

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.

As of October, Kolwe said, 834 students in prekindergarten through sixth grade attended Eastside.

The School Board requested the expansion back in May.