Old Jennings Elementary demolished; James Ward Elementary repurposed

Published: Jun. 30, 2023 at 7:39 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, La. (KPLC) - Demolition has started at the old Jennings Elementary School, but as one school comes down, another is being upgraded.

Over 26 portable buildings at the old Jennings Elementary were demolished after decades of standing.

“When you’re in a portable building and it’s raining outside, you can’t hear anything. When the air conditioner kicks in, the floors and walls vibrate. Those are the kind of conditions that the kids were in, and also the teachers were having to teach in when you have 40 percent of your buildings that are portable,” said Jeff Davis Parish Supt. John Hall.

The aging structures also required a lot of care.

“There’s still upkeep on them because we still have to maintain some level of the property and the grass,” Hall said.

For those reasons, the school, which was built in the early ‘50s, is coming down. But as one school is being demolished, another is being re-purposed with improved safety measures, new infrastructure and various programs for children in the community.

James Ward Elementary School is named after James Ward Jr., a former principal at Jennings Elementary and a pioneer of education in the Jeff Davis Parish school system who followed his father’s legacy.

“It is a reflection of a legacy that was started by my grandfather in the early 1900s. My grandfather James Ward Sr. and my grandmother Ida Ward Stevens were both pioneers in education,” said James Ward Jr.’s daughter, Alana Ward Robinson.

Decades upon decades later, the Ward family legacy in education continues to live on.

“My grandfather was a firm believer that being able to read and being educated was a source of freedom for Black people in the early 1900s. My dad, James Ward Jr., and his three sisters were all college graduates,” Robinson said.

After its upgrade, the school will be named the James Ward Center For Excellence, where students will be able to build on various trades with many resources at hand.

James Ward Center for Excellence is scheduled to be completed by August 2024.

Supt. Hall said once the property is restored and leveled, the school board will decide whether they will sell it or keep the land.