In The News › School officials take second look at master plan

Nov 2, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Schools

School officials take second look at master plan

School officials take second look at master plan;
In response to community input, more projects shifted to first phase

By Darran Simon, and Sarah Carr, Staff writers

School officials on Monday will unveil a revised school facilities master plan that shifts more projects into the first, five-year phase — the only portion of the sweeping plan currently fully financed — and defers decisions on closing four currently occupied campuses for several years.

The revisions also reverse decisions to close two campuses and instead call for construction or renovation in the first phase. Eleanor McMain Secondary High, previously considered for a move, will now be renovated at its Uptown location, and Carver High School will see its current campus demolished to make way for a new high school.

Previously, the plan called for that new high school to be built in the Lower 9th Ward. That neighborhood will still see a new high school, though in the second phase of the plan.

Another major change: reducing the size of 10 proposed elementary school buildings, in an effort to reduce costs and create smaller schools. The schools, originally slated to serve about 600 students each, will now serve between 450 to 530.

Those changes should shift about $60 million toward additional projects added in the first phase.

Ultimately, the building plan will span over six phases for elementary schools and five phases for high schools. It will cost up to $2 billion.

The plan aims to shrink the city’s bloated portfolio of school buildings to account for drastically decreased public school enrollment, both because of the flood and declining enrollment over the past three decades.

The first phase, which carries the bulk of construction, could result in the renovation and new construction of 32 campuses, paid for with close to $700 million, drawn mostly from federal flood-recovery money.

The Orleans Parish School Board — with only two current members remaining in office to see the bulk of the phase-one construction — will vote Thursday on the joint recommendations from board Superintendent Darryl Kilbert, state school Superintendent Paul Pastorek and Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education also must approve the plan; it is scheduled to vote this month.

The recommended changes largely were the result of hundreds of public comments received since the first draft was presented in mid-August.

In response to community criticism and appeals, school officials said they will hold off on proposals to close four schools: the Frederick A. Douglass, Samuel J. Green, Walter L. Cohen Senior and O. Perry Walker high school campuses. Those decisions won’t be made until phase two, after 2013.

The decisions will hinge on the strength of programs and the student population at that time, Pastorek said.

The first draft of the sweeping facilities plan recommended mothballing some 52 campuses — including several historic buildings and some relatively successful programs.

That proposal sparked fear among some residents about the future of academic programs in those buildings, and, in some cases, backlash from elected officials.

However, officials decided to keep the majority of buildings on the list for “land banking,” meaning the campuses will be closed as schools and the buildings sold, put to another use or reopened as schools sometime in the future.

Only one occupied building, the Audubon School extension Uptown, is scheduled to be land banked before the end of the first phase, officials said. Audubon’s main campus will remain open and be renovated in phase one, but the resulting school will serve substantially fewer students.

The revisions also call for three schools to move from the second phase to the first: Edward Livingston, which currently houses two charter schools in modular buildings, will become the site of a new high school, and Carter G. Woodson and Phyllis Wheatley schools, which are near two now-closed public housing developments slated for redevelopment into thousands of housing and rental units.

The organizations redeveloping those former public housing developments — the C.J. Peete, near Woodson, and the Lafitte, near Wheatley — have committed to helping finance those schools. But the financial details of those arrangements still must be worked out.

The changes were driven in part by lobbying from school faculties and community groups to have their projects moved into the first phases.

Those complaints stemmed from worries that future phases of the plan, which will cost up to $1.3 billion, might not get financed. Tulane University’s Cowen Institute and the independent watchdog group, Bureau of Governmental Research, raised red flags about how much isn’t financed at this point.

The two groups argued that if money is not found for later phases of the plan — a likely scenario, they say — it would exacerbate inequities in children’s access to quality school programs and buildings.

But Thelma French, director of board operations and intergovernmental relations, countered that the schools in later phases have already received more than $100 million in repairs and renovations to get them reopened after the flood.

Advocates of several schools expressed relief that the protests produced change in the plan.

Teachers and parents from McMain, who advocated strongly to stay at the Uptown site — in a residential area near universities — rather than move to the campus of Booker T. Washington — near an industrial site — will now enjoy a $12 million renovation of the current school, including the addition of a gym.

“That’s what we wanted. That’s what the students and parents and most, if not all, of the teachers wanted,” said Natalie Maloney, a McMain teacher.

Pastorek said keeping McMain on its current site was, “the biggest compromise.”

Even with the approval of the master plan, each individual project still will have to be authorized as part of the capital budgets of the Orleans Parish School Board and the Recovery School District.

Copyright 2008 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company

Nov 2, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Orleans Parish, Schools

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