City panel splits on Tulane request to demolish Newcomb Institute building

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The building housing the Newcomb College Institute at Tulane University is slated to be replaced with a new building, but its demolition will require City Council approval. (Robert Morris,

The building housing the Newcomb College Institute at Tulane University is slated to be replaced with a new building, but its demolition will require City Council approval. (Robert Morris,

A request by Tulane University to demolish a 100-year-old home on campus used for the Newcomb College Institute and build a new facility in its place drew a split vote from a city panel Monday afternoon, likely sending the project to the New Orleans City Council for approval.

The new building will include a dining facility and enough administrative space to unify the offices of the Newcomb College Institute, which are currently spread across campus, said Danny McElmurray, a Tulane architect, before the city’s Neighborhood Conservation District Committee on Monday afternoon. The university’s long-term plan is to move 80 percent of the student body into on-campus housing, and more dining space will be necessary, he said.

“We are running out of space very, very quickly,” McElmurray said.

Sally Kenney, director of the Newcomb College Institute, said that members of the program are enthusiastic about having a central location built specifically for their programs. Further, she noted, Uptown New Orleans already has another example of the architectural design nearby — an identical residence is at 1319 Eleonore.

“It’s not one of its kind,” Kenney said of the structure.

The Newcomb College Institute was created as part of the controversial consolidation of the former Newcomb College with Tulane University after Hurricane Katrina, but this plan has the support of the Newcomb alumnae, said Catherine Edwards, president of the alumnae association. It is also supported by students, said Hannah Gilbert, incoming president of the Newcomb Senate student organization.

“Although it’s sad to see the house go, we have confidence that the architects will recreate the comfortable atmosphere,” Gilbert told the committee.

Committee member Eleanor Burke of the Historic District Landmarks Commission said that the building, built in the Italianate style in 1908, contributes to the historic fabric of the campus. She questioned the possibility of moving the house elsewhere, but McElmurray said the cost is estimated to be around $3 million and would require the removal of large oaks not only around the building now, but also along the route to its eventual destination.

Committee member Paul Cramer of the City Planning Commission praised Tulane for finding a location within its campus for the project, rather than expanding into the neighborhood.

When the committee cast its vote, however, the result was 4-3 in favor of the demolition — technically one vote short of the five needed for the committee to approve the demolition outright, or a “de facto denial,” Cramer said. Tulane can appeal the decision to the City Council.

Houses at Lusher
In a separate item before the NCDC, Lusher Charter School received permission to tear down two houses on the Jeanette Street corner of its Willow Street campus. The space will first be used for modular buildings to house students during the coming year’s renovations of the campus, and then for green space afterward — and any future construction on the site would have to return before the city for a conditional use, officials said.

The campus is currently about 1.5 acres. School facilities consultant Ken Ducote said the city recommends school sites either sit on a 2-acre site or a full city block, and removing the last two buildings on the square will fulfill the latter recommendation. Despite its popularity, the school is unlikely to grow across any of its bounding streets, Ducote said; instead, any growth at Lusher will have to be at a new site altogether.

Burke said these two houses are important to the Carrollton historic district, and would reduce the housing stock in the neighborhood, which is highly sought after because of Lusher. Committee member Jenel Hazlett said she, too, could not support the demolition.

“I can’t endorse tearing down two houses for temporary trailers and green space,” Hazlett said.

Cramer, however, said the demolitions make sense because the two houses are the only two remaining residential buildings on Lusher’s block. The request passed with a 5-2 vote.

To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below.

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