Laura Bush announces grants for devastated school libraries

Laura Bush announces grants for devastated school libraries

By JANET McCONNAUGHEY

The Associated Press

CHALMETTE, La. – First lady Laura Bush visited two Gulf Coast schools Wednesday to announce $500,000 in grants to help school libraries wiped out by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Bush, a former librarian and public school teacher, announced the grants at Chalmette High School in St. Bernard Parish, where every building – including 15 schools – flooded. The money will go to seven public and private schools in Louisiana and three in Mississippi.

“Rebuilt libraries will bring children back to their schools, and rebuilt schools will help bring families back to their revitalized Gulf Coast,” she said at the day’s second stop, in Mississippi.

The money is coming from the Laura Bush Foundation’s Gulf Coast Library Recovery Initiative.

Time Inc. chairman and CEO Ann Moore announced that her company is offering magazines to every school that gets a grant from the foundation, and with German media giant Bertelsmann AG, will also provide books.

At Chalmette High, where the flood wiped out the library’s entire collection of books and magazines, including every issue of Life magazine since 1936, Moore had an additional gift: a complete replacement set. That’s priceless, principal Wayne Warner said.

Bush said this was her 12th visit to the area since Katrina hit on Aug. 29.

“Each time I am encouraged by seeing so much rebuilding,” she said.

At Gorenflo Elementary in Biloxi, school librarian Holman Hunt Jr., said only seven of the school’s 13,000 books could be salvaged after a 6-foot flood. The school is not expected to reopen until January 2007.

Hunt said he did not return to the library until last Friday. It was too painful.

“I can hardly talk without crying about it,” he said. “It was such a beautiful library, and I was so proud of my collection.”

The grant will replace about half of what the library had before the storm, Hunt said. The school has also received more than 2,000 donated books, he said.

“Thanks to this grant, I will have enough to have a functioning library,” he said.

Libraries are the backbone of education, Hunt said. “Kids have to have access to books to learn.”

Libraries suffered mightily because of three of last year’s hurricanes – Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

Eight of New Orleans’ 13 libraries remain closed because of damage from Katrina. Rita flattened four of the libraries in Cameron Parish, on the western end of the state.

They’re just a few of the 25 public library systems damaged by the hurricanes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. University and school libraries also suffered major damage from the three hurricanes.

It costs at least $50,000 to restore an elementary school library, and double that for a secondary school library, Bush said.

At an average of $15 per book, it would cost more than $300,000 just to replace Chalmette High School’s 25,000 volumes, Warner said before the ceremony.

Another program to help public school libraries affected by the hurricanes and other disasters – including those which have taken in large numbers of displaced students – offers grants of $5,000 to $15,000. The American Association of School Librarians will administer it, with help reviewing grants and providing information from the National Education Association. Discount retailer Dollar General is providing $800,000 for the program, called Beyond Words.

The school librarians’ group is part of the American Library Association, which has signed up 750 volunteers to work on renovations at two New Orleans public libraries during its convention, expected to bring 20,000 people next month. Librarians in 25 parishes and counties hit hard by the storms can get free registration.

The ALA also has raised $330,000 for Hurricane Katrina relief.

In Louisiana, Katrina and Rita destroyed 26 libraries and damaged 39 more.

It would cost $63 million to rebuild Louisiana public libraries damaged by last year’s hurricanes, said Diane Brown, deputy state librarian.

“But many of our libraries were below standard,” she added. “To rebuild back to standard would be about $203 million.”