Expanding their footprint in the Carrollton area, officials at Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans are considering moving some of their upper grades into the former James Weldon Johnson school on Monroe Street for several years while continuing to work on their long-term home on the Priestley campus.
After Hurricane Katrina, Johnson was a direct-run Recovery School District elementary school for several years before it was abruptly closed in 2012 to become “swing space” for other campuses. Sophie B. Wright Charter School was Johnson’s first tenant starting in the fall of 2013, remaining for an unexpected three years until the renovations of Wright’s historic Napoleon Avenue campus finally wrapped up in time for students to return this past September.
Although it has been occasionally mentioned as part of the eventual reorganization of KIPP’s properties in Carrollton, the Johnson building now stands vacant, and RSD officials have told Lycee that it is potentially available as swing space for a few years, Lycee board member Mary Jacobs Jones told the school’s facilities committee on Monday evening. Lycee would not have to pay rent for the building, but would be responsible for upkeep and utilities.
The Johnson building would need some sprucing up, said Lycee CEO Keith Bartlett, but offers the growing school plenty of room with 29 classrooms and additional space for computer, art, and music labs. Its total capacity would be 831 students, far more than the 400 or so Lycee expects to have in grades three through seven next year.
“The best thing is it allows us to grow for another year, perhaps two more years, giving us time to get Priestley up and running,” Bartlett said.
Johnson is only a few blocks from Priestley, school leaders noted, and would be especially convenient if Lycee manages to renovate and begin using Priestley’s gym prior to the rest of the campus, Bartlett said. Meanwhile, Lycee could consider pacing its Priestley project into two separate phases — renovating the existing building and adding a new wing.
“Really, the sticking point I think is if there’s some sticking point on the operating cost,” Jones said.
The Johnson plan would call into question the future of planned renovations at the Central St. Matthew campus, officials say. But the church is aware Lycee is considering this option, Bartlett said, and there’s a chance the church would renegotiate the lease or sublet some of the space back from LFNO instead of reconfiguring their side of the building. Even if Lycee had to keep the lease at Central St. Matthew, it might still save money in the long run based on the flexibility that the Johnson campus would provide, board member Tim Gray speculated.
School administrators will continue investigating the condition of Johnson and the costs of various scenarios, and the facilities committee tentatively plans to meet again Nov. 28 to make a recommendation about Johnson to the full board.
The facilities meeting has concluded, and the full board is now scheduled to begin its regular monthly meeting. See below for live coverage.