The 15-year effort to rebuild New Orleans Public Schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is in its final stages, with a project that promises to prepare students for careers in the tech sector serving as one of the highlights of the program.
Once the project wraps up in February 2023, all 45,000 students in the city’s school system will be educated in a new, renovated or refurbished facility. It marks the end of the $2 billion New Orleans School Facilities Master Plan that began in 2008 – the largest school recovery project in the nation’s history to renovate and/or construct new schools following the 2005 hurricane that devastated the city.
One of the last major construction projects is the $31.3 million Walter L. Cohen College Prep, located at 3520 Dryades St. The project was led by Grace Hebert Curtis (architect) and Lemoine Company (general contractor). At 105,000 square feet and three stories high, the school will include updated academic classrooms and science labs as well as visual, music, and performing arts classrooms. The school’s auditorium will have seating for 250, and the gymnasium will seat 450. Construction is projected for October 2022 completion with a school move-in date of December 2022.
Others include the Rose Mary Loving Elementary School renovation, slated to wrap up this month. The final project, the renovation of Dr. Alice R. Geoffray High School, is projected to be complete by February 2023.
Waggoner & Ball (architects) and Landis Construction (general contractor) are leading the $35.7 million renovations at Rose Mary Loving Elementary School, formerly Martin Behrman on General Meyer Avenue. The renovation of the historic main school building will enhance the classrooms, science labs, library and 604-seat auditorium. The new early learning center will provide four kindergarten and four pre-kindergarten classrooms. The new gymnasium will provide locker rooms, offices, concessions, and storage, as well as almost 400 bleacher seats.
“This facility will receive a historic renovation to increase the quality of the overall facility that respects the rich history of the facility and the neighborhood in which it resides,” Tiffany Delcour, chief operations officer for NOLA Public Schools, told CityBusiness earlier this year. “This project will also expand access to high-quality early childhood education programming.”
When the first School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish was approved in 2008, the available funding for rebuilding schools in New Orleans was approximately $750 million. This funding was able to cover the costs of Phase 1 of the six-phase Master Plan.
Prior to Katrina the school system consisted of nearly 130 schools, far more than what was needed. That was scaled back to 79 campuses. Initial plans called for the construction or renovation of one school in each of the city’s five council districts.
The rebuilding of the school system got off to a slow start because of Federal Emergency Management Agency rules that specified federal funding could only be used to restore buildings to their pre-disaster condition. Unfortunately, many school buildings in Orleans Parish were already in dilapidated condition before Katrina.
In 2010, though, the Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish School Board, with the aid of then-Sen. Mary Landrieu, reached a settlement with FEMA that provided $1.8 billion to fund the remaining phases. Under the settlement, funding could be used to rebuild schools in a way that best served the city’s population. The Master Plan was then revised in 2011 calling for 35 new schools, 18 full renovations and 28 refurbishments.
Facilities were completed in order of urgency given building condition.
“The plan was a combination of new schools, full renovations of schools and refurbishment projects,” said Annie Clark, Chief Operating Officer, Education Facilities Development, with the Recovery School District.
“Those refurbishment projects ranged anywhere from a million dollars to probably $15 million at a school to do a kind of minor renovation, to make sure they got new air conditioning, plumbing roofs, those sorts of things,” Clark said. “Our full renovations were the historic buildings.”
Complicating rebuilding efforts was the fact in many cases students would need to move out of a building that was being renovated into temporary facilities. Additionally, the student body was growing as those displaced by Katrina moved back to the city. Officials also wanted to ensure students didn’t spend an excessive amount of time traveling back and forth between home and school.
“It was kind of a chess game of trying to balance everyone’s needs, and people were moving back the whole time,” Clark said. “We needed more and more space as all of this was happening.”
One factor that influenced the process was a desire to ensure there was a functional school in every neighborhood as soon as possible
“After Katrina, building a school in a neighborhood really helped revitalize and drive rebuilding,” Clark said. “It was an indicator at a time when people didn’t have a lot of indicators that a neighborhood was going to come back.”
The Recovery School District also created a disadvantaged business enterprise program that had a goal of 25% of contracts or subcontracts going to minority-owned businesses. Ensuring rebuilding dollars were staying in New Orleans had a significant economic impact on the larger community as well, Clark said.
One of the crowning projects in the School Facilities Master Plan is the $33.4 million renovation of Dr. Alice R. Geoffray High School into the New Orleans Career Center, located at 1331 Kerlerec St. The 143,000-square-foot building will offer a variety of training programs designed to prepare students for high-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree. Students will have access to clinic and hospital simulation labs, a fully functional ambulance bay, a CAD lab, a commercial-grade kitchen and catering space, as well as an outdoor construction collaboration area.
SCNZ Architects and Broadmoor LLC partnered on the project.
“The charter movement here really pushed college, college, college for a long time,” Clark said. “I think there was finally a realization that there could be other options.”
NOCC is slated to move into the Kerlerec Street building in early 2023.
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