NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Avis Williams abruptly reversed her surprise decision to move Plessy Community School from its historic French Quarter campus in a Wednesday afternoon announcement, stating the school “will remain in its current location.”
Last week, Williams informed the school it would leave the French Quarter due to the building’s deteriorating condition for a renovated school two miles away in the 7th Ward. Declining citywide school enrollment has prompted a number of school closures and mergers over the last few years.
That news was met with criticism from parents, school CEO Meghan Raychaudhuri and at least one Orleans Parish School Board member.
At the time, Raychaudhuri said the district had made the decision to “involuntarily and permanently relocate” the school, noting she learned of the decision in a letter.
In a two-minute video posted Wednesday, Williams said she would host two community meetings with parents next week to gather more input.
“I am also a leader who wants to listen … I have decided to reset on the decision,” Williams said, after hearing from school leaders and others.
Raychaudhuri said Wednesday she was pleased with the reversal.
“As we move forward, we hope to iron out long-term solutions, namely how they will fund the $18 million over 10 years that they noted the building needs,” she said. “Our historic French Quarter building deserves renovation and improvement to remain a place of learning, inspiration and joy for future generations of Plessy students to come.”
Raychaudhuri applied to relocate the school last year when a different building opened up, noting the expensive renovations but district officials chose another charter group and ultimately agreed to temporarily relocate Plessy while providing limited necessary renovations.
On Wednesday afternoon however, the district’s press release highlighted additional variables, including the presence of lead and asbestos in the old building.
“This decision was made due to the poor condition of the current McDonogh 15 building, which includes not being fully remediated of all lead and asbestos,” the press release stated of the original relocation announcement. “It’s also not fully ADA compliant, it’s not energy efficient, it does not have a cooking kitchen, and it lacks the additional square footage to expand the school’s programming that will help ensure our scholars success now and into the future.”
The district did not provide additional information about the state of lead or asbestos in the building.
Asbestos, a commonly used building material until the 1980s, is dangerous when its fibers become airborne. Many old schools may contain the fire-retardant material in floor tiles and adhesive, ceiling tiles and pipe insulation. It is generally safe unless renovations or other activities disturb the material.
Plessy’s French Quarter campus had emergency renovations last summer to remove asbestos flooring due to “unsafe conditions in floor tile,” according to state documents.
After the health crisis over lead in Flint, Michigan’s water supply became public, the Recovery School District and Orleans Parish School board decided to install filters as a more permanent solution, than testing water. Filter installation was originally set to begin in the fall of 2017. That was delayed by a year, to the fall of 2018.
In 2019, a Plessy student’s off-the-shelf lead test kicked the district into high gear and it installed water filters and water pressure boosting pumps in the facility.
“The Plessy French Quarter campus is not just a place to educate children but also a part of what keeps the French Quarter a living, breathing neighborhood,” Raychaudhuri wrote. “It deserves saving.”