Group of “P-town” neighbors seeks Healing Center concept for Priestley site instead of French charter school

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

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

Interest by a French-immersion charter school in buying the long-vacant Priestley school site in west-Carrollton has galvanized a group called the “P-Town Project” into seeking a Healing Center-style home for fresh food and social services there instead.

Members of the group discussed their vision Thursday night before the monthly meeting of the Carrollton Riverbend Neighborhood Association, which has long fought the renovation of Priestley — most recently as a better location for the students of the former Johnson Elementary school. After Hurricane Katrina, state school officials had briefly included the renovation of Priestley in their master plan for spending $1.8 billion in FEMA rebuilding money, then removed Priestley from the plan but promised to explore the possibility of renovating it.

After the Recovery School District closed Johnson, however, the Orleans Parish School Board designated Priestley surplus property. According to state law, charter schools have the right of first refusal to surplus school properties, and after touring the building, officials at the Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans sent a letter expressing interest in buying the property as a possible middle school for near its appraisal price of $360,000.

The “P-Town Project,” which has a website that launched in April, posted an article in late June titled “Why French Lycée is the Worst Option For the Priestley Building,” which says little about Lycée itself and more about the issues of economic inequality and gentrification. Likewise, the presentation by P-Town Project organizer Britt Gondolfi on Thursday focused its attention on a vision for the building that she and others refer to as a “Healing Center 2.0.”

“The concern of many residents is that a French immersion school will not suit the needs of the children,” said Gabriel Flores. “Is Lycée our best and only option?”

The P-Town Project proposes that Priestley become a multi-use building with a food cooperative with fresh-grown vegetables, a neighborhood business incubator, and a variety of social-service providers, such as a free clinic, educational programs, legal-aid services and a daycare. Its gym could be used for athletic activities and its grounds could be used as a park.

The building and site itself, the organizers say, should be given directly to a neighborhood-owned nonprofit to be used by everyone.

“We’re missing a public space, and that’s why we’re seeing a divide in our community,” Gondolfi said.

Gondolfi was joined in her presentation by the Rev. Steve Gomez of the Faith In Prayer Missionary Baptist Church at 8720 Green Street, who is hosting weekly meetings about the use of the space. Resident and former Priestley student Tammy Butler said all the group is asking for is that the sale of Priestley be delayed by a year, so the neighborhood group has time to organize and raise funds.

“We have this brilliant opportunity here,” said CRNA resident Robbie Robertson. “If we are cut out of the picture, it will be what I think of as morally outrageous, and the school board needs to know that.”

Organizers said they recognize that the School Board cannot by law give the property to them, and that the process clearly gives charter schools first right to the building — followed by a public auction at which a private developer could outbid them on it. Instead, they called on the City Council to negotiate with the School Board to take ownership of it, and then move forward with the P-Town Project’s vision from there.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood remains host to a number of other community center projects. Nicole Bouie of Community Commitment noted briefly that her organization has been providing similar educational services for five years, and recently opened their building at 8540 Spruce. The new home of Hollygrove-based Trinity Christian Community is intended to be in the 1700 block of Monroe, though controversy over that project continues. And entrepreneur Tilman Hardy said in March that progress is continuing on his project, the Leonidas House.

No decisions were made by the Carrollton Riverbend Neighborhood Association on Thursday night, and association president Barry Brantley noted that another presentation on the Priestley site is expected next month. The 25 or so people who attended Thursday generally agreed, however, that the association is a suitable forum to host the ongoing conversation.

“This is not a debate,” Brantley said. “This is simply a presentation of concerns.”

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

Live Blog Carrollton Riverbend Neighborhood Association

17 thoughts on “Group of “P-town” neighbors seeks Healing Center concept for Priestley site instead of French charter school

  1. How do they propose to get around the fact that the school board is bound by law to sell the site (which is a surplus school site) to a school unless no schools want it?
    If any charter school wants it (Lycee or any other), the school board can’t just say no and sell or give it to another group, no matter how well-intentioned that group may be- even if the other group has the money to buy it. Delaying the sale for a year would not change the law.

  2. As the article states, many of the services that this group is proposing for the Priestley site already exist in the neighborhood. I can think of two additional that werent mentioned, Harrell Stadium (with full track and public pool) and the community garden at the Johnson School site. The garden at Johnson (that has a full time gardener) has a grant specifically to provide the community with growing space to allow for the creation of a community co-op. In the 2-3 years of existence, I dont believe they have gotten much community support, from either other groups or community members. Nearly all of the program proposed for the Priestley site by this p-town group already exist and they have yet to use those entities to better this community.

    Lycee, however, can fill an immediate community need in this area, an academically successful public school. Despite some misconceptions about what they are, Lycee is a public charter school that is available to any resident of this city regardless of income. They are currently providing, at the elementary level, one of the better public educations in New Orleans. Their potential growth into this neighborhood can only be a positive as far as I am concerned.

    Both the plan of the p-town group and the future of Priestley as a community school can be obtained without going through these unnecessary hoops. While many of the items that the p-town group envisions would be beneficial to this neighborhood, an academically successful public school is a greater benefit to the long-term success of this area. I am looking forward to the potential of having Lycee as a neighbor and hope you all do as well…

  3. I just don’t understand where residents think children are suppose to go to school. Lycée Francais needs a larger building and other charter schools need space too. If the city’s old school buildings keep being sold to non-school entities, where will our children go to school? Having decent charter schools ultimately helps our community.

  4. Great another group that wants a place for “free stuff” and “gimme that building”. What a crock! This building will end up rotting in place while these “gimme that” group spittles about “social issues”. If they think that they can do better – give me a detailed plan of action, how they are going to accomplish their goals, private funding prospectives, and metrics to show that they can accomplish their plan before it is even considered – you have 6 months. You can’t get all this in place, on paper and PRIVATE funding commitments – it goes to the people with the plan. This “gimme that” crowd needs to grow up and be adults – or leave the room.

  5. The SCHOOL WINS – it is for the children. I hear so much about how education is the key to lower all social ills – go with a proven achiever in realization of that goal.

  6. If the neighborhood (P-Town Project) wants everything it stated, why haven’t they been working on it since October, 2005? I believe there are accessible groceries at both Claiborne/S Carrollton AND along Jefferson Highway. I’m sure this sudden interest is tied into the non-existent bus service and the population of the Lycee. Do the residents of the area think their children can’t benefit from attending a neighborhood school–and learning a second language?

  7. Thanks for this WC, I was not aware of these projects and this is encouraging for the neighborhood regardless of this property. If a public school wants to renovate this property and return it to education then that is a great thing– the property is huge and could easily accommodate community events as well.

    One thing I am confused about is why the community group mentioned above does not want this to be a school anymore.

    • Read the article in The Lens. All that need be mentioned is that a member of the Audubon Commission is involved in the project and it is guaranteed to be a monumental CF. They need to be scrutinized by both the IG and the IRS as do many of these tax-dodge so-called “Ministries”.

    • As for the article from the lens, all that need be mentioned is that a member of the Audubon Commission is involved and the project is guaranteed to be a corrupt CF. if any entity needs to be investigated by the AG and the IRS, it’s the Commission. They should have a look at most of the tax-dodge, so called “ministries” while they’re at it.

  8. I live in the Carrollton/Leonidas neighborhood, and I’m excited that there might be a public school there. I never considered sending my children to a French immersion school, but I would love for my kids to be able to attend a neighborhood school that they could walk to. I hope this P-town group doesn’t cause Lycée to give up on the site.

  9. Anyone interested in what these folks are up to. Please come to 8720 Green Street for 7pm this evening. All of your concerns, comments, ideas, critiques are all being internally discussed and navigated. We are formulating a vision for the entire neighborhood where everyone wins more than they could ever imagine.

  10. What do we mean when we say Healing Center 2.0?

    It means we want to recognize what

    is ailing this community and

    empower ourselves to heal it.

    We see us aching from an a lack of access to food.

    We see us aching from a lack of access to general supplies (RIP Super 10)

    We see us aching from a lack of business ownership

    From a lack of jobs, self sufficiency

    From a lack of education.

    From a lack of schools.

    From a lack of a community space.

    From a lack of culture

    Healing Center 2.0 is a simple way of saying

    We want the authority to make blight

    right.

    Of Us. By Us. For everyone.

    It means we want to try our hand

    at something that has never been done.

    A lucrative and free University

    run by the members of the community

    the University sits in.

    2.0 means

    “Community Driven”

    “Collectively Owned”

    “Democratic Process”.

    “Just trying to be it all for everyone”

    “Building Prosperity where there is poverty”

  11. I don’t understand what a “Healing” Center would really do for us. I live one block away and it is a better idea for a school (any school) to be there instead of some personal development center which will be under funded, under staffed, and under utilized.

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