Lycee Francais charter school votes to explore purchasing Priestley building

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The front door of the Priestley school building in west Carrollton. (Robert Morris,

The front door of the Priestley school building in west Carrollton. (Robert Morris,

The long-shuttered Priestley school building in west-Carrollton could finally come back to life after decades of unuse, after the governing board of the Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans charter school enthusiastically voted Thursday evening to ask the Orleans Parish School Board for the opportunity to buy it.

“We’re really excited. We would like to move on it. It’s a nice building on a big plot of land,” said board member Mary Jacobs Jones, chair of the school’s facilities committee. “Even partially boarded up, you can get a feel for what a great building it was.”

The move is far from final. The Priestley building is currently considered surplus by the OPSB and slated for public auction, but state law gives charter schools the opportunity to buy empty buildings before private developers. Other charter schools could seek to buy the building as well, and the final sale price is up to the Orleans Parish School Board.

The board’s vote, however, contained as much excitement and optimism as the Priestley campus has received in the 30 years since it was last used. Neighbors in the Carrollton area have long begged school officials to renovate it, but it was dropped from the citywide Master Plan for school repairs under the FEMA settlement.

Several Lycee board members and administrators have visited the Priestley campus in two visits over the last week.

“The second I pulled up I was very excited,” said incoming board chair Alysson Mills. “It’s a complete city block, and it’s kind of bucolic. The building itself, it doesn’t look great right now, but you can see its potential.”

The board voted to send a letter to the OPSB requesting 90 days for due diligence on the condition of the building — school officials have previously stated the importance of having an engineer determine whether the foundation is as sound as the building’s structure appears to be. The school has the funds to make a cash offer, the letter states, and they are already in contact with lending institutions about their fundraising plan for the facility.

The school will have 476 students from preschool to 4th grade next year, and the Priestley campus will serve as a middle school for Lycee, the letter states. Board members noted that purchasing the building now will give them a springboard to begin a capital campaign.

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

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