Cultural icon on life-support

Parish gives 6 months to save old Luling School

Since 1931, the old Luling Elementary School Building has withstood the test of time, but wind damage from Hurricane Katrina could spell its death knell, as it lost most of its roof. At the very least, in 6 months, the old schoolhouse won’t be in the hands of the parish school board.

Recently, the board was prepared to tear it down, but hearing the hue and cry from some parish residents, the school board approved a motion to let the building remain standing for 6 months. Now, any potential group could step in and purchase the building while the board awaits the $750,000 settlement from insurers after determining the building to be beyond repair.

The roof would need to be replaced along with removing large amounts of asbestos that is in the pipes, floor tiles and plaster. “All of that would have to be contended with first,” said St. Charles Parish School Board Assistant Superintendent Larry Sesser, before addressing the structural problems.

The building served as a schoolhouse until 1958, then it became an office for the school board. The final stint began in 1982, when it served as the maintenance building. Each time the building changed hands it was remodeled, further removing it from the original aesthetic that many, like preservationist Gerald Zeringue, remember.

While one side sees the building as a liability, another sees it as a cultural treasure.

Zeringue pled with school board members to save the building and is now heading a movement. As to building’s aesthetic importance, Zeringue said, “It’s been a part of Luling for so long that it needs to be saved,” adding that he would like to see it used as a community art center. “Something cultural for the kids. This is living history,” he said.

Zeringue said that in 1982, when the building was transferred to the maintenance department, the condition of the old schoolhouse declined rapidly.

With the stay on demolition, an architect told Zeringue that it would cost between $1.5 and 2 million to repair the cultural landmark. “Somebody asked me, ‘Is it worth it?’ I said, ‘How can you put a price on kids’ education?’ Zeringue feels that the old schoolhouse is essential for the children to learn about past of their community.

The architect that Zeringue spoke with said that the building was not a total loss, but it would be expensive. “The biggest problem is asbestos; that will be the most expensive part to restore the building.”

Currently, Zeringue is shopping for someone to finance the project, and he is thinking of starting a foundation.

“I’m hopeful that the Historical Society and the Republican Women (of St. Charles) can find the financial sources and take it buy it from the school board,” said Sesser, adding that the building had deteriorated significantly even before the storm.

“I worked in this building from 1979 through 1982, and I have fond memories of this building,” said Sesser. While Sesser doesn’t want to tear down the building, the problem he feels is that building costs too much for the board to repair.

As for the price tag on the old schoolhouse, Sesser said that the assessor has not given him the price.

According to Sesser, the building has fallen into such a state of disrepair that maintenance employees are no longer allowed inside. Sesser also had employees screw the windows and the doors shut after it became apparent that someone was sneaking into the old school.

Initially, Sesser worried if they sold the building that the board would be liable for a lawsuit, but, “as long as a seller advertises the conditions of the building, then you can sell a building in this state.”

“In the 50s, when it really changed its total character from a elementary school to an office building, that would have been the ideal time to save the uniqueness,” said Sesser. Besides returning the school to its original aesthetic, Sesser said only the façade and the two sidewalls are salvageable.


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