Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans charter school is hiring a facilities consultant to guide its leaders through the planning process of renovating its recently purchased, long-vacant school.
The French-curriculum charter school’s board gave CEO Keith Bartlett permission to hire 4th Sector Solutions for $2,500 per month for six months, or $15,000 total.
Lycée purchased the Priestley site in the Pigeon Town neighborhood for $425,000 from the Orleans Parish School Board earlier this year. The 77-year-old facility likely will require at least a $9 million renovation. That number could top $21 million if Lycée elects to build an addition, according to a 2012 facility assessment.
Board Vice Chairwoman Mary Jacobs Jones, who also sits on the facilities committee, said the board did not have the expertise necessary to work through the process. Other members agreed.
“I think this would be very useful to us,” Chairwoman Alysson Mills said.
Member Tim Gray called the decision a “no brainer.”
Jones said hiring the consultant did not require a request for proposals because it does not meet the $150,000 contract minimum required by the state. The legislative auditor does recommend schools solicit bids for public-works contracts over $25,000.
Lycée has two general options when it comes to renovating Priestley. They can work with a third party, or find their own financing and supervise work themselves.
Lycée could sell the facility to a third party that would secure construction financing, and then the charter school would lease the facility. Another charter school, Encore Academy, did just that and will move into the renovated facility owned by the Charter School Development Corp. sometime this fall.
Lycée could also renovate on its own in stages.
The choice could have an effect on how the contractors are chosen. State law requires that public entities use the lowest of three bidders for public-facilities contract work valued above $150,000.
But the school’s attorneys, Adams and Reese LLP, determined that the school would be exempt from Louisiana Public Bid Law should it use a private developer to manage and finance the construction project.
The school also faces a charter renewal this year. Finding outside financing for an organization with an undecided future may make that self-funded path more difficult.
The state Department of Education will visit the school in November, and the school will learn if its charter is extended at a subsequent meeting.
In other news, the 629-student charter school received a notice of concern, a letter the Louisiana Department of Education issues when a school fails to meet a specified requirement. Its student body includes 50 percent economically disadvantaged or at-risk students, but the state charter law requires that ratio to reflect the charter’s enrollment zone. Lycee can enroll students statewide, and the year its application was approved that figure was 66 percent in Louisiana.
“We’re still short by 16 percentage points but we’ve made significant progress,” Bartlett said.
He took time to point out an improvement in its population makeup. The school’s special-education population is 6.5 percent of its student body. That’s up from 4.1 percent last year, Bartlett said, when Lycee had one of the lowest special-education enrollments in the city. In 2014, the city’s public schools, including both the Recovery School District and Orleans Parish School Board, averaged special education enrollment of 11.2 percent.
The board’s facilities committee met Wednesday night and discussed options such as placing temporary portable buildings at the Priestley site. The school currently leases space at three separate facilities.