The Audubon Charter School community expressed some relief Wednesday night at the possibility of finally leaving the old Carrollton Courthouse building that is literally falling down around them.
But parents and staff members said they are also frustrated that the McDonogh 7 school building on Milan Street being offered to them is considered another temporary fix that still will not fill their space or programming needs.
Orleans Parish Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Padian said a permanent resolution may be only three years away, but in the short-term, moving out of the Carrollton building is a must.
“I completely agree that a temporary solution is not a great solution, but it’s what we have right now,” Padian said.
‘A pure nightmare’
Audubon moved into the courthouse building, 719 S. Carrollton Ave., in 2006 as an expansion when the school received its charter after Hurricane Katrina. At the time, Audubon founding board president Carlos Zervigon said, the future of New Orleans public education was in disarray and school leaders felt lucky to get an extra building at all.
The age and disrepair of the building have long been a problem, however — culminating most dramatically in the severe roof damage it took during Hurricane Isaac. Padian estimated $15 million would be needed just for basic structural repairs.
“This building is a pure nightmare,” said principal Janice Dupuy. “We lose so much money in maintenance. We’re throwing good money after bad trying to keep the rain from coming in.”
The McDonogh 7 building at 1111 Milan St. — used by Andrew Wilson Charter School immediately after Katrina, then the Crocker Art and Technology School until 2012 — also looks old, said Audubon operations manager Alisa Dupre. But its interior is in far better condition, she said. Only four portable classrooms would be needed — unlike the 14 in use at the Carrollton site — and they would be for resource rooms like art or gifted and special education, so that no students would spend the entire day in them, she said.
The placement of those portable buildings represents the only obstacle for the school. The easiest solution would be to place them on a vacant lot behind the school (technically on Marengo Street), Padian said, but that would make them farther for students to walk and also take up valuable play space for sports. A better option that would leave more open space for recess would be directly behind the school building, but city codes would require a variance from the Board of Zoning Adjustments because it would leave too little green space, Padian said.
The school board hopes to make that request in May, Padian said, who urged parents who live near the school to come out in support of it. If it is approved, the move out of Carrollton could take place in the summer, giving Audubon’s fourth- through eighth-graders a new campus for the fall.
‘We need to lobby’
The logic of the move was accepted by most of the 70 or so people in attendance Wednesday night, but the prospect of several more years of uncertainty was not. If McDonogh 7 is still too small, they asked, why is Audubon moving out of one unsuitable building into another? When will a permanent home become available? Why are other schools getting entire new buildings, when Audubon, one of the highest-performing in the city, gets only leftovers?
A major part of the problem, Padian said, is the Recovery School District’s reluctance to relinquish buildings that it controls. As more of its programs move into the buildings now under construction for them, however, she said she expects more buildings to become free. There are a number of buildings that might be available in about three years, Padian said — she mentioned the McNair building currently housing KIPP Believe as one example, and several parents mentioned the Banneker building whose students will be moving to Dunbar in Hollygrove.
Underlying the entire discussion, however, is the years-old conflict between Lusher and Audubon over the Allen building currently housing Sci High, which both programs have publicly requested on numerous occasions. When it was mentioned Wednesday night, Padian said that Sci High won’t be moving out for years, and that it is too early to begin discussions of who will get it — echoing conclusions drawn by the OPSB property committee late last year.
Todd Taylor, president of the school Parent Teacher Organization, said after the meeting that McDonogh 7 will be an improvement over Carrollton simply because it does not leak, and that he has confidence Audubon will eventually get the permanent building parents desire. Which building that will be and how quickly that will occur, he said, will depend on how actively they are willing to fight for it in the intense competition across New Orleans for school buildings.
“We have to be more political. We have to show up,” Taylor said. “We need to lobby. We need to fight for our rights.”
This story was first published by Uptown Messenger and appears here under a special arrangement. Unlike other Lens stories, it cannot be republished.