Cohen High School to be rebuilt instead of moved to Booker T. Washington site, officials say

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Retired Lt. Gen. Russell Honore (center) and other advocates discuss contamination in the soil at the former Booker T. Washington site in front of what remains of the former school in September 2014. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Retired Lt. Gen. Russell Honore (center) and other advocates discuss contamination in the soil at the former Booker T. Washington site in front of what remains of the former school in September 2014. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Ending a plan that was controversial on numerous levels, officials announced this week that Walter L. Cohen school will be rebuilt on its traditional site in the Milan neighborhood, while control of the Booker T. Washington site will be given to the KIPP network once the campus is rebuilt.

The previous plan was to move Cohen to the Booker T. Washington site in a merger between the two schools. Cohen alumni have long opposed it on the ground that the combined high school would be too large, and they were joined in their opposition by environmental activists last year who criticized remediation plans for the site, the old Silver City dump.

Ben Kleban, CEO of the New Orleans College Prep network that operates Cohen, said the College Prep board adopted a resolution in favor of the Recovery School District’s commitment “to ensure Cohen is the first priority in master plan funding” at a meeting Tuesday night.

“We understand the Recovery School District is prioritizing FEMA Master Plan funding to build a new school for Cohen College Prep at its current site,” Kleban said in an email to Uptown Messenger. “New Orleans College Prep has requested that the RSD build the new school on the current field of the Cohen property, in order to minimize disruption and relocation for the students and staff. That location is the footprint of the original Walter L. Cohen High School Building and honors the tradition and legacy of the school and its alumni.”

The plan was likewise praised by James Raby, president of the Walter L. Cohen Alumni Association and a member of the College Prep board.

“This is a remarkable victory won by the hard work and sacrifice of the WLCAA, Cohen parents, BTW alumni, and concerned citizens of New Orleans,” Raby said in a statement. “We are confident that the decision to rebuild the Cohen High School at its present location will benefit our young people and help to ensure a brighter future for New Orleans.”

The previous plan to merge Cohen with Booker T. Washington was supported by many Booker T. Washington alumni, however, who saw it as a path toward rebuilding their once-prominent high school into a state-of-the-art campus with an emphasis on job training. Under the new plan, KIPP will receive control of the Booker T. Washington site, according to a letter outlining the plan obtained by The Lens.

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