Newman strives toward accord with neighbors concerned about expansion

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The site plan for the additions to the Isidore Newman School.

The Isidore Newman School is working on additional restrictions to its expansion plans in order to address the concerns of its neighbors, the school attorney told members of the surrounding neighborhoods Tuesday night.

The school is asking for land-use changes on three sides of its campus. An early-childhood center is planned across Loyola Avenue, a home on the corner of Jefferson and Danneel is being renovated for a headmaster’s house, and the old AutoPaint building at Danneel and Robert, currently used for storage, could one day become a classroom facility of some kind, said attorney Justin Schmidt.

Neighbors worry about the impact that each of the changes could bring. The early childhood center, they say, will bring more traffic to the already-crowded neighborhood streets. If the headmaster no longer wants to live in the headmaster’s house, then the home will become yet another school building, futher encroaching into a residential area down Jefferson. Likewise, the eventual conversion of the AutoPaint building into classes could bring additional parking pressure and continue backing the school into the neighborhood, they said.

Schmidt sought to dispel those fears. Around the early-childhood center, he said, the city has suggested making the streets one-way during peak dropoff times.

“Effectively that’s what happening now” at those times, Schmidt said. “It’s like salmon swimming upstream, so the city has suggested everything go downriver. Around every major school in New Orleans, except major streets, the traffic pattern is one-way streets on every side.”

Schmidt also insisted that more parking is not needed, even if the AutoPaint building is converted into classes. He said he drove around the campus at Tuesday afternoon and counted open spaces on every street.

The land-use changes, he said, are not about adding more students to Newman: They are intended to create more room and better spaces for the students already there. Enrollment is at 972 this year, fairly low, and its smallest class is kindergarten, with 52 students — likely a result of the increased competition for students by high-performing public schools nearby.

“With Lusher, the cost of Newman, the whole charter school movement, enrollment is down and probably going to stay down,” Schmidt said. “This is about providing better accomodations and better atmospheres. It gives them the opportunity to have better facilities. … Right now I would say with confidence, there is no plan to buy anything out of this footprint.”

The neighborhoods have begun working on additional restrictions to Newman’s expansions that should address some of the problems, said neighborhood leaders Lynn Alline and Shelley Landrieu. They want Newman to create a detailed traffic plan around its campus, detailing where officers are stationed and when, that neighbors could rely on.

For the headmaster’s house, they want additional assurances that it will keep a mostly residential character — perhaps some small offices or meeting rooms, but no large conference halls or student uses — if the headmaster ever decides to move out. And with the AutoPaint building, if more than nine classrooms are ever put there, it will have to include additional parking.

“I feel like we’ve kind of covered it,” Landrieu said. “If you’ve got anything else, let us know soon.”

Newman’s plans are slated to go before the City Council for a final decision Sept. 15.

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