Audubon Charter School expects that the renovations needed at the Banneker campus will take about two years before students can move in, an issue that is causing some tension with the Orleans Parish School Board, officials said Monday night.
The most pressing need is for an addition that can hold about four classrooms, said principal Latoye Brown on Monday night at a meeting of the school board’s facilities committee. There is also some heating and air-conditioning work to be done, some existing classrooms need to be reconfigured, and many exterior windows are blocked and need to be improved aesthetically, Brown said.
Audubon leaders also want to reconfigure the outdoor space, such as converting some of the parking space to play areas for the children. School leaders are not sure the city regulations will allow that, however, so they need time to address with that with city planners.
After the Orleans Parish School Board assigned Banneker to Audubon, OPSB officials indicated that they expected Audubon to move in as soon as the coming summer, and were unhappy with the idea of Banneker remaining vacant during the next school year. Audubon officials, however, have told OPSB that they need to complete the renovations before moving in — starting with taking engineers in to verify and update the final Recovery School District report on the building from a few years ago.
“We won’t put children in the building in July when there is some renovation that needs to take place,” Brown said.
On Monday night, Audubon’s facilities committee voted to create a “Request for Quotations” seeking architects to evaluate the building and design the renovations. If the school were to take as long as it needed to explore options with Banneker and create a fundraising campaign, the project could take as long as four years, said board member Eva Alito.
“They’ve got to design an addition to the building, and those don’t just pop up out of the ground,” Alito said.
At a minimum, construction should take a year and a half, school leaders said, so a more optimistic estimate is two years when planning is included.
“We’ve been talking about how move out McDonogh 7 and move in to our new building as quickly as possible,” Brown said. “For us, more reasonable is an 18-to-24 month timeframe.”
Conversations about that timeline are still ongoing with the Orleans Parish School Board, she noted. Audubon officials have pointed out that these renovations were proposed in the application the OPSB approved for Banneker, and raised the question about whether by starting renovations quickly the building could be viewed as “occupied” by Audubon.
“Everything is really conjecture right now until can get in get hard data on what needs to be changed,” Brown said.
One board member, Rachel Van Voorhees Kirschman, suggested that Audubon may still be in a “due diligence” period on Banneker, in case the renovation costs end up far above expectations. Audubon school leaders suggested that rejecting Banneker would be extremely unlikely for a number of reasons.
Despite the issues with the Banneker building, it is still strongly preferable to the current building on Milan Street, Brown told the committee members. Milan is 37,000 square feet with its portable units and thus would need at least eight more classrooms added, while Banneker is much larger at 55,000 square feet and would only need the addition of four.
While the heating-and-air system at Banneker needs some work, but it is not nearly as old as that on Milan Street. Renovations or additions to the Milan Street building are also complicated, because the building is historic.
Ultimately, Banneker is still the best facility in the Uptown area, and any others that might come available are likely to have many of the same problems. Audubon families are also in favor of the close proximity of the two campuses, noted operations manager Alisa Dupre.
“There’s no other option, and Milan is not sustainable,” Dupre said.
The facilities committee will report to the full board at a meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday (Nov. 10) at the Broadway Street campus.
Monday’s meeting also included discussion of renovations at the Gentilly campus. See below to read our live coverage.