HOW IT WORKS: Hurricane Recovery Construction Projects and FEMA Reimbursements

September 8, 2021

Staff at the Calcasieu Parish School Board is very saddened to deliver the news that all hurricane recovery construction projects in the district have been halted as of yesterday, September 7, 2021. Damages from Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Delta total an estimated $400 million, and with the absence of FEMA reimbursement thus far, our school system does not have cash available to continue the projects at this time.

We have exhausted $40 million in insurance proceeds, $100 million in borrowed funds, and about $20 million in local dollars. While we have initiated nearly $300 million in FEMA reimbursement for repairs, we have received $116,000 total to date. Like many of you, we are incredibly frustrated with the process. We want nothing more than to have our campuses fully restored and operational for students, faculty, and staff.

As many of you understand, due to dealing with your own home repairs, the construction and fund reimbursement process is cumbersome and tedious. We have followed every direction provided to us by FEMA in hopes of avoiding the current situation. Below we’ve outlined some of the expenditures thus far just to give you an idea of how we arrived here.

Our first projects (Category B) involved remediation contracts. Two were enacted, one for 43 schools and one for 33 schools.  The first 30 days are at a 100% reimbursement rate, and the next 30 days are at 90%. As FEMA instructed, we submitted four project worksheets totaling over $125 million for this process. Other Category B projects include dry-in work and temporary fixes to stabilize our buildings. We also submitted two temporary roofing project worksheets for 76 schools totaling nearly $12 million.

Our permanent work (Category E) consists of 128 planned projects costing an estimated $248.6 million. Fourteen different architects have been assigned for these projects, with CSRS, Inc. serving as the project manager. Of these projects, 97 projects have been advertised for our bid process and 90 contracts have been awarded totaling $156 million. Seven of those have not been given the notice to proceed due to lack of funds. We are happy to say that 31 projects, a quarter of our total projects, have been completed.

We know there are many questions and concerns about this temporary suspension, and we hope to answer some of those questions here.

  • What are we doing to expedite the FEMA reimbursement process?
    • Our staff members have been working diligently in attempts to expedite this process to receive FEMA reimbursement funds quickly, but as of now, we have not been successful. Weekly calls with FEMA and Louisiana Public Assistance representatives have occurred for the last nine months, and they continue today. We’ve held conversations with local congressmen, senators, and state legislators. We’ve met in person with FEMA Director Deanne Criswell. We’ve met with Governor John Bel Edwards on multiple occasions. We’ve held Zoom calls with FEMA and GOHSEP state administrators. We have had a contract in place with our FEMA Grant Manager since two weeks after Hurricane Laura. The formatting required for the FEMA reimbursement is also stringent, so we’ve collected detailed invoices, pictures, and aerial footage and formatted those items into project worksheets for submission.
  • How can we be certain contractors will be available when projects resume?
    • Our contracts allow for temporary suspensions to be enacted, so when funds are available and projects can be resumed, contract obligations will be fulfilled. We gave notice to our architects and contractors yesterday about the temporary suspension of projects. Before leaving the jobsite, they were asked to secure any potential safety and security issues and finish any projects that would cause additional damage when exposed to elements.
  • Could this have been avoided?
    • Without some action from FEMA, this temporary suspension of work was simply unavoidable.
      • If we had received some sort of FEMA reimbursement by this point, whether we received large lump sums or smaller increments, we feel that this suspension would not have happened.
      • Our only other option would have been to delay the start of any permanent work until we secured FEMA funding. However, FEMA representatives do not advocate for entities allowing buildings to sit and deteriorate further. The entire FEMA process is based on reimbursing applicants for money spent, but without incremental payments, the process becomes nearly impossible.
  • What can the public do to help?
    • We ask that our citizens here in Calcasieu parish contact your elected officials, especially those on the national level. As we’ve explained here, we continue to exhaust all efforts to restore our schools and campuses as quickly as possible.

This news is obviously very difficult to deliver, and it is very difficult for our staff to digest. This is not a situation any of us wanted to be in, but without the help of national governmental entities, it is unfortunately where we are. We hope that very soon we are able to deliver positive news regarding hurricane recovery construction projects, and we will certainly keep our stakeholders informed with any new developments.

We appreciate patience and understanding during this time, as we continue rebuilding foundations for the future.