Ponchatoula’s Student Outreach Celebrates National Event
By Kathryn J. Martin
Thursday, October 24, Ponchatoula Community Center was abuzz with excitement when loved ones joined their children to participate in the annual “Lights On Afterschool” celebration.
The national Afterschool Alliance organized the event twenty years ago and is America’s only national rally for afterschool programs.
More than a million people were expected to be involved at some 10,000 locations for the evening to celebrate the program’s success as well as its 20th anniversary.
Showing support for this educational outreach, such landmarks as the Empire State Building, Times Square, parks, etc., were bright for the evening with blue and yellow lights.
At the local level, Professor Gadget from Mad Science held the attention of adults as well as students as he performed what looked like magic tricks but explained along the way as “science”.
First Lady Kim Zabbia was so amazed at his teaching skills, she complimented him by saying, “If I’d had you as a teacher in school, I would have definitely majored in Science!”
Having three children of his own, the professor knew how to hold attention and had eager volunteers, including every student at some point, individually and collectively in teamwork.
“Volunteered” by the children’s exuberant “Ma-yor! Ma-yor! Ma-yor!” and “Li-sa!, Li-sa!, Li-sa!” were Mayor Bob Zabbia and Human Resources Manager Lisa Jones, who along with Director May Stilley, have made the afterschool program dream a reality.
Contained in the presentation was encouragement to “do schoolwork, learn something new every day and show appreciation to those who care for you.”
In real life “Prof” said his wife was an engineer with the Corps of Engineers in Dallas and he was in the mortgage industry but both were looking for ways to give back to their community.
When they discovered “Mad Science”, they knew it was for them and relocated to New Orleans. They “perform” at parties, schools, zoos and library functions and look forward to being part of parish library summer programs.
Everyone enjoyed a delicious meal with Jambalaya prepared by Donald Lanier and Jimmy Schliegelmeyer and other foods brought by parents and teaching staff.
Parents interviewed beamed as they expressed appreciation for the Ponchatoula Afterschool Outreach Program and the big positive difference it is making in the lives of their children.
After a rousing family game of Bingo, the city’s third annual “Lights on Afterschool” ended on the same positive note it had begun – a celebration of success.
The online adjudicated property auctions will eliminate blight while restoring significant, annually recurring revenues to the City from property taxes that had previously gone unpaid. “We are looking forward to our partnership with CivicSource to help return previously vacant land and properties back to use and commerce,” explains Ramona Tara’ Umbach, Tax Collector for the City of Ponchatoula.
The mayor began with words few Louisiana municipalities ever hear about their own, “The city is financially sound and debt free.”
Careful planning, careful spending, and careful saving seemed to be the unspoken background of the presentation, showing how it’s possible for a city this size to maintain such a glowing record.
A graduate of Ponchatoula High School, Douglas brings to City Hall ten years of experience in mechanical seals, afterward earning degrees in Accounting and Economics. To stay current in his field, he is active in the Louisiana Municipal Association of which Ponchatoula is a member, The Louisiana Municipal Clerks Association, its national and its International Institute of Municipal Clerks Association.
Few people know that interdepartmental parish and city agencies often come together in cooperative agreements to solve problems and make improvements, saving considerable time, effort and expense for both.
Little did Jeff Daniels know he was in training for Ponchatoula City Councilman when he saw first-hand how interdepartmental agencies of the parish and the city came together to solve a major drainage problem in his Millville neighborhood over a year ago.
Neighbors grew concerned when each rain brought more standing water than ever before, over the streets and finally inches from houses. The city does not have the manpower or equipment for clearing canals, so working with Mayor Bob Zabbia and the city crew, and knowing so many people from his years with Entergy, Daniels contacted District Administrator Kylie Bates of the Tangipahoa Parish Gravity Drainage District Number 1.
Bates was joined by Chuck Spangler of Spangler Engineering to investigate. Walking every inch of ditches and canals, Spangler found blockage from erosion in a canal. (Constriction in a channel creates backwater which increases velocity causing more erosion.)
Further investigation showed the canal didn’t belong to the city or the parish, but to each homeowner along it.
This meant getting signed permission from each homeowner to do what was needed to clear the canal. Daniels collected the signatures for Parish Councilmen Bobby Cortez and Harry Lavine to present to the Parish along with a request for assistance. After approval, work was begun.
The parish did the work, the city assumed the responsibility and the canal was cleared, aiding drainage from properties even north of Millville.
It was because of his interest and help that Daniels was approached by numerous people asking him to run for City Councilman to fill an upcoming vacancy which he won.
Kiley Bates continues to be of valuable assistance from the parish in consulting due to his experience as well as his Industrial Technical education at Millsaps and engineering degree from Southeastern and LSU.
This example is one of many in which the city of Ponchatoula has partnered with other agencies.
To further illustrate: Each hurricane season since Katrina, Ponchatoula Fire Chief Rodney Drude and Mayor Bob Zabbia sign intergovernmental agreements with St. Bernard parish officials that should the lower parish need to evacuate, officials can bring their equipment, offices and important records here. (And they have, being housed at the Fire Department.) If needed, they will provide additional help to our community.
Another help is having Parish President Robbie Miller, Mayor Zabbia and neighboring leaders hold positions on the Regional Planning Commission which meets monthly in New Orleans, allowing area officials to know the latest in works and funding available.
Through this commission, the parishes of Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. John, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa get certain allotted funds each year for projects such as transportation which include items such as feasibility studies and reports for sidewalks.
Just recently, the Barringer Road Sidewalk Project has been included in the Tangipahoa Improvement Program (TIP). Also, this commission has aided the city in hastening the widening of Highway 51, a project which has been anticipated for twelve years.
At the parish level, bids for road improvements and overlay require such a volume of work and expense that the city can “piggyback” onto the parish to obtain high quality work at a lower price through a co-operative agreement, allowing the city to stretch its dollar rather than bid out on its own. Thus, when a parish road and a city street meet, the work continues all at one time.
Another example is the way the parish Council on Aging and the city have worked together to provide daily bus transportation, allowing more Ponchatoula citizens to get employment, shop and get to medical appointments.
Ponchatoula city government and parish government continue to work hand in hand in mutual agreement resulting in major accomplishments for both.
A recent tour of Ponchatoula City Hall showed just how large the physical facility is along with changes made to utilize every foot of space while offering protection to the property.
The “Hardening Project” is the result of the FEMA-funded grant’s goal of protecting any open areas of glass and utility systems with reinforcement.
This grant came through bids taken by the parish for many parish buildings and is probably the first extensive local improvement project since City Hall moved in. The total cost was $360,000 with the grant’s share 80% and the city’s, 20%.
Called “hardening” or “thickening”, double-paned windows replace traditional ones and thick, impact-resistant material protects the air-conditioning units and generator. For further safety, a large fire escape now reaches from top floor to ground.
The building was originally Bohning’s Supermarket and, little known to the shopping public, had a large second floor overhead. Early in the current administration, a sturdy, wide inner staircase was added and, more recently, a secure climate-controlled record-retention room built to house documents. (Regulations for retaining documents are strict as some must be kept for months, some for years and some, forever.)
Included in Ponchatoula’s 20% part of the project, the city furnished new doors, gutters, and painting.
Outdoor landscaping had already been included in the city’s budget. Left to do in the city budget are improvements to the employee parking lot and painting.
Three new offices have been added for the building official, human resources and finance departments and new faces have joined the existing staff to assist the public.