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Lafayette Academy to miss out on FEMA money

It looks like Lafayette Academy Charter School will not be getting a renovation the Choice Foundation expected, a board official announced at a monthly meeting Wednesday.

Mickey Landry, the foundation’s executive director, said he was informed by Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard that there is not enough money left from FEMA to renovate Lafayette Academy. The Federal Emergency Management Agency originally had set aside $1.2 billion for the city’s schools, Landry said.

Instead, the school will get a “refurbishment.”

“This is of course because they’ve done things like pay gadzillions of dollars in consulting fees,” Landry said, adding that “they built palaces for the first schools that went out there.”

Landry said the district’s waste and inefficiency didn’t stop there. He witnessed classroom materials being brought to the trash during renovations, instead of being transported to other schools.

“For every school they’ve redone, they’ve taken every piece of furniture, every computer and every bookend, and thrown them out,” the seething official said during the meeting.

Landry added that the school had salvaged some of these discarded items for McDonogh 42 Charter School.

But the outlook for Lafayette didn’t seem promising.

“Unless they get an enormous amount of tax credits to renovate Lafayette, we will not get a renovation,” Landry said.

In other facilities-related discussions, Choice Foundation Chairman James Huger said that the board was trying to get out of a lease it had signed with Grace Episcopal Church on Canal Street.

In March, The Lens reported that a month after deciding to move ahead with plans to relocate its headquarters to a newly renovated spot at Grace Episcopal Church, Choice leaders decided it wouldn’t be possible.

Choice, which oversees Lafayette Academy, Esperanza and McDonough 42 charter schools, started making plans more than a year ago to relocate the organization’s headquarters at the church as well as to house prekindergarten and kindergarten classes there.

Huger reported that the cost estimates for the renovations spiraled from $625,000 to $1.6 million, describing the situation as an “unmitigated mess.”

So the board decided to sue the architect it believes is responsible.

Board vice-chairman James Swanson is a managing partner at Fishman Haygood, the law firm which board members said in March will represent Choice in a lawsuit against Sizeler Thompson Brown.

“The immediate situation is what to do with the church,” Huger said on Wednesday. “The church doesn’t know what to do with us and we don’t know what to do with them.”

“The reality is, neither of us can do anything until we’ve resolved this litigation with our architect,” Huger said.

Huger added their attorney can’t be made available until May.

“You’ve gotta love speedy justice,” Huger said. “I don’t think anything is going to happen quickly with any of this.”

Previously, Swanson had said he anticipated the Foundation would be able to recover the $400,000 already invested into the site, but that legal proceedings would take time.

On Wednesday, the agenda had been amended to approve tax credits for the renovation of McDonogh 42.

At the beginning of the meeting, Huger joked about an earlier story by The Lens that called attention to an illegal board meeting, at which the board voted to re-elect its entire membership without properly notifying the public.

“We got slapped on the hand by The Lens. Actually, we got slapped across the mouth,” Huger said. “But The Lens is here. We love The Lens. We love public disclosure.

“In fact, next time I’m going to have this meeting naked, so I’m totally exposed to The Lens,” he added. Board members laughed.

The meeting took just under two hours. Kevin Kane, Allyson Mills and Jim Swanson were not present when the meeting began.

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