Tulane University has withdrawn its request to tear down a 100-year-old home used for offices of the Newcomb College Institute, city officials confirmed Tuesday, amid a growing protest from Newcomb alumnae and others.
The demolition request received mixed reviews when it appeared before the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee in early May. The house was built in 1908 (identical to another home on Eleonore Street), and it lacks enough space for all the programs of the Newcomb College Institute, said institute director Sally Kenney at the hearing, with the president of the Newcomb Alumnae Association and current Newcomb institute students by her side.
The university’s plan was to replace the building with a larger facility that could house all of the institute, as well as a new dining facility intended to accommodate the growing numbers of students living on campus. Some members of the city panel praised Tulane for finding a place for the building within its own footprint, rather than expanding outward into the neighborhood, but the 4-3 NCDC vote in favor of the request was technically one short of the five needed for approval, so the decision moved to the City Council instead.
No one from the public spoke in opposition to the demolition at the May meeting, but The Future of Newcomb College Inc. — the organization that supported the post-Katrina lawsuits against closing Newcomb College — recently sent out an email mobilizing members to save the building. With the City Council decision pending, the email criticized the university for attempting to “slip through the application process” without sharing it with alumnae, and described the house, the former Newcomb Dean’s Residence, as part of “the highly valued traditions and history of Newcomb College.”
“We just started getting calls from people in New Orleans saying, ‘Do you know what’s going on? Can you help us?’” said Renée F. Seblatnigg, a member of The Future of Newcomb College Inc. “We’re continuing to get a big response from people in New Orleans and beyond New Orleans who are upset about it. If they went to Newcomb and remember the building, they feel like this was just one final insult.”
On Tuesday morning, City Councilwoman Susan Guidry’s office sent out an email confirming that Tulane has withdrawn the request. Based on city codes, Tulane cannot reapply for the demolition until October, according to the email.
“Councilmember Guidry received over 150 emails, calls and letters in opposition and support of this issue,” the letter states. “Our office has carefully reviewed each email and listened to the concerns being brought to our attention.”
Seblatnigg praised the decision by Tulane to withdraw the application as “an opportunity” for the university, saying that she hopes incoming President Michael Fitts and his administration will be more inclusive and transparent in planning the future of the campus.