Apr 242013
 

An aerial view of the ISL campus. The modular classrooms are planned for the grass-and-dirt area on the Magazine Street side of the school, a field currently used for soccer and other sports. (image via Google Maps)

Neither the leaders of the International School of Louisiana nor their closest neighbors are particularly happy about the decision, but modular buildings appear to be the only available solution remaining to ease the overcrowding expected at the Camp Street campus next year.

Now, the primary question left to answer is how long the modulars will stay on the Magazine Street side of the campus — two years, five, or much longer?

About 50 people showed up for Wednesday night’s meeting of the ISL governing board, most of them parents simply eager to see a resolution after the school’s previous plan for a satellite campus unexpectedly fell through. No other nearby properties are available with the right configuration to hold the school’s fourth and fifth grades, officials said, and the process of converting a building would last well into next school year — which would require yet another temporary place for those students in the meantime.

The school already has a contract in place for modulars at the Algiers campus, which would allow it to move quickly in placing similar buildings at the Camp Street campus. The school leadership had previously rejected that option because it still increases the crowding at Camp Street — reducing the play areas and straining common spaces such as the cafeteria — and were displeased to be facing that option yet again.

“It’s frustrating to not have options,” said board member Mike Lappa.

The contractor providing the modulars at the Algiers campus, SNM, has offered the school two options at Camp Street: a five-year lease for a new building with classrooms connected by a main hallway, or a year-by-year lease for several used, individual units. Board members and parents alike were less concerned with whether the units had been used or not, and more with being stuck with modulars they do not want if a satellite campus can be found a year or two down the road.

“I’m uncomfortable with locking into a five-year plan that we’ve already deemed inferior to another option,” said board president Andrew Yon. Moments later, he added, “You know the saying about modulars: They’re a short term solution that become a permanent problem.”

About a quarter of the audience were neighbors of the school. Some were more frustrated about the modulars than other — one noted his irritation about paying the high costs to live in a historic neighborhood, only to have trailers installed across the street. Others were more resigned to the modulars themselves, as long as they have some assurance that they will go away at some point.

“This is not something we want to see be a permanent part of the neighborhood,” said Jim McAlister, president of the Coliseum Square Association.

Several neighbors complained of the quality-of-life problems associated with living near a busy school, such as parents parking illegally in the street, too close to intersections and even in private driveways in the rush to get their children to school on time. Yon, a former Coliseum Square Association leader himself, and McAlister agreed that the installation of the modulars could be used as a starting point to reach better solutions between the school and the neighborhood.

“It starts with a conversation,” Yon said. “Maybe this is the thing that kickstarts it.”

Many parents and board members initially worried that the school will simply outgrow the modulars next. Head of School Sean Wilson strongly rejected this idea, however, pointing to enrollment projections that show the student count leveling off in about two years.

The Camp Street campus is overcrowded not because more students are being admitted, but because more are remaining at the school into the upper grades. Enrollment this year is 586 students. It is expected to jump by about 50 students next year as a small eighth-grade class graduates, but then only by about 20 students the following year, and to remain at that level of approximately 660 students for the next three years through 2017, the projections show.

To reassure parents that nothing like the unpopular Algiers-Camp Street split would be enacted, the board quickly voted in favor of the modular concept. They then instructed administrators to gather more details on the differences between the new or used buildings, and agreed to reconvene quickly once that information is in hand.

“We’re not looking to drag this out,” Yon said. “We’re looking to make decisions based on information.”

To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below.

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