Five years after Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans and left it in shambles, the city is undergoing a full-scale revamp of it public school buildings, breaking ground on eight new elementary schools. The projects are funded through a $1.8 billion settlement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover the damages incurred during the natural disaster. The compensation was announced in August.

Over a dozen projects have broken ground with more to come by the middle of 2011. According to the Times-Picayune, there are nearly 80 projects planned as part of the six phases of the master plan, which includes new development as well as renovations to existing facilities. Many elementary school projects broke ground in November while others will break ground this month.

The FEMA settlement allows schools to be construction where there most needed in the city. However, the money will likely only cover the costs of projects through phase four, as the funding was granted based on the pre-Katrina replacement value of the schools. Many of the schools were not the innovative learning centers seen in wealthier parts of the country.

When the money runs out, funding could come from tax credits or other financing. "It's yet to be determined whether this will allow us to put every child in a world-class school. But I don't think it was ever intended by this FEMA settlement that we would try to accomplish that," said Paul Pastorek, State Superintendent of Education told the Times-Picayune.

For the time being, the city stands to benefit from the economic recovery and subsequent lower construction costs. Many of the projects will reach completion in August 2012.

New Orleans is one of several towns that are undergoing public schools projects. California announced funding for shovel-ready school projects last week.

Photo courtesy of David Grunfield, The Times-Picayune

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