May 192016
 
A Lycee Francais banner hangs from the roof at the former Priestley campus in July 2015. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

A Lycee Francais banner hangs from the roof at the former Priestley campus in July 2015. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

The Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans charter school named the Blitch Knevel architectural firm to lead the master planning of its expansion to the Priestley campus in Carrollton, perhaps the most significant step forward on the major renovation project since the purchase of the building a year ago.

Blitch Knevel will receive $30,000 for three preliminary tasks — creating a master plan for the renovation of Priestley, seeking any necessary land-use permits from the city, and applying for historic-tax credits, according to a decision approved by the school’s governing board Monday night.

“We would like you immediately commence the performance of your duties,” wrote school CEO Keith Bartlett in the letter authorizing Blitch Knevel to proceed.

Lycee first began exploring Priestley as a potential site for its upper grades in the summer of 2014, though it was May of 2015 before the purchase of the building from the Orleans Parish School Board was completed. Since then, the school has taken over maintenance of the Priestley grounds, using the site as its first daily bus stop for neighborhood children, and holding outdoor events there — all while the board’s new facilities committee considered how to proceed with the renovation.

A projected date for moving onto the campus is still yet to be determined, but consideration of that timeline will form part of the master planning process, said board chair Alysson Mills in an interview with Uptown Messenger.

“We will definitely look for some projections,” Mills said. “Because we’re making other decisions, such as committing to leases of other buildings, obviously those decisions should be informed by what’s going on at Priestley.”

After the master plan is complete — likely in three to six months — a new, separate contract will be required for actual architectural services on the Priestley campus, Mills said. Blitch Knevel is not “locked in” to that second contract, but would be an obvious candidate, Mill said, and bidding for the actual construction will follow that.

“We can’t see every step before us yet, but hiring a firm is a big step,” Mills said. “We hope that this will be our partner going forward, and at the end of this we’ll have a great building.”

Blitch Knevel — which also oversaw the renovation and expansion of Audubon Charter School, as well as other institutional campuses — was one of three finalists to lead the project. Eskew+Dumez+Ripple and Waggoner & Ball both submitted strong proposals as well, Mills said, and cost was a key part of the reason for the facilities-committee’s recommendation of Blitch Knevel.

In a related decision, Lycee has chosen not to renew its lease of classroom space at the First Presbyterian Church on South Claiborne Avenue (where the school was founded), citing rising rent there. The preschool classes from that building will be absorbed into the school’s main campus on Patton Street, school officials said.

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