ST. JOHN, La. -- Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Isaac's landfall in southeast Louisiana.
One of the hardest hit areas during the storm was St. John the Baptist Parish, where thousands of people were evacuated from rising flood waters.
The welcome sign inside the lobby of Lake Pontchartrain Elementary serves as a reminder. It reads: August 27th, 2012. Hurricane Isaac has arrived. Be safe!
The students and staff still haven't returned to their campus two years after the storm.
'I think a lot of the parents and students are disappointed, but I feel very strongly they're on the right track now,' St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom said of the two schools that remain shuttered in the Parish.
There's a similar and eerie abandoned feeling inside East St. John High School for anyone who walk its hallways. The building was also flooded by Isaac's 8.4 foot storm surge that pushed its way into the parish, flooding homes, businesses and schools.
A report from the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness shows 4,000 people had to be rescued.
Last week a mitigation contract was finally approved for the high school after the School Board's stalemate in awarding construction contracts to fix both schools.
'Designated items for salvage, disposal. We're going to have a company come through clean everything,' said Courtland Foley of Lincoln Builders, pointing out some of the remediation work that has already started at ESJHS.
Next Tuesday demolition begins kick starting the construction project.
'They're building a levee around the perimeter of the [high] school, a pump station and redoing the drainage that will start in mid-to-late September,' said Cindy Janecke with All South Consulting Engineers.
Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School was hit hardest during Isaac. Now design work is underway to completely replace the facility on Hwy. 51.
'Even though FEMA did not declare the building substantially damaged, the school board felt that it was in their best interest to demolish that building and instead of putting a levee around it, elevate the building,' said Janecke of the elementary school.
Reopening the parish's two damaged schools is one of many priorities. The parish government is fighting for approximately $700 million to build a levee system to better protect St. John the Baptist Parish and the I-10 evacuation route.
As you may remember, much of the interstate in LaPlace was under water and impassable during the storm, staying flooded days later.
The proposed levee system would run from the Bonnet Carre Spillway to Hope Canal to the Mississippi River. It would also incorporate both St. James and St. Charles parishes.
'It is about 17 miles. The majority of it [the levee] is in St. John the Baptist Parish. There is a small portion in St. Charles which we have to connect to St. Charles levee. There has to be some connectivity,' Robottom said.
There were many lessons learned from Isaac. According to Robottom, staff are better trained in emergency preparedness. Communication with residents is more streamlined.
With more than 7,000 homes flooded during Isaac, Robottom said rebuilding efforts continue.
'We feel we're about 95 percent back to where we need to be, but what we understand is there may be people in their homes, they haven't completed all the construction,' Robottom said.
The parish says it has secured $32 million in Community Development Block Grant funds for elevation and construction work. Some of the money is still available to homeowners.
'All of these programs are being rolled out. We're in the process of securing funds to assist us with both eligibility and intake that entire process,' Robottom said. 'We know from what happened in New Orleans, we're going to have some difficulty with title or clear title succession. So we're bringing on legal assistance to help the families that may have to work through that.'
It's work that continues parish-wide 24 months after Isaac stuck around for a little too long. The storm sparked historic flooding in communities that hadn't been hit this hard in decades.
The school board secured $39 million in FEMA funds to help rebuild both schools in the parish. St. John will have to find an additional $25 million in borrowed money, approved by voters in a bond referendum.
ESJH is expected to reopen for the 2015-2016 school year. Construction work on Lake Pontchartrain Elementary is expected to start sometime next summer and the school is slated to reopen for the 2017-18 school year.