The new campus of Walter L. Cohen High School may be built on the school’s original site, closer to the Amelia Street side of the property than the current building along Delachaise Street and in a smaller building than other new high schools, according to early ideas being floated by the school’s operator.
Orleans Parish and Recovery School District officials announced in October that the school — known as Cohen College Prep after New Orleans College Prep assumed operations of it — would be given a new building at its current site along Baronne Street rather than merged with and moved to the former Booker T. Washington site in Central City — a plan that both Cohen alumni and environmental advocates vigorously opposed.
Cohen’s state-issued school performance scores have steadily risen from the lowest in the city just five years ago to the cusp of what officials hope will be a “B” rating this year. But the current building is not “meeting any kind of standards,” CEO Ben Kleban told the nearby Delachaise Neighborhood Association at a recent meeting, so the hope is that a new, “world class facility” will add to the school’s momentum.
Kleban has said he hopes that the new building will be built on the current athletic field on the Amelia Street side of the property while students remain in the current building on Delachaise Street, so they are not displaced during construction. When students move out of the current building, it will be torn down — returning the campus to its original configuration of generations past.
“The original site of Cohen is where the field is now,” Kleban explained at the meeting.
No design has been created for the building yet, Kleban said — his first meeting with the RSD about the project was scheduled for late November. Once tentative plans are in place, he will bring the design back to the neighborhood for review, he said, but he needs their help keeping the project on a front burner.
“I’m going to ask the association to document your support and maybe advocate on the way,” Kleban said. “We could find ourselves mired in bureaucratic red tape. It’s going to be important for the officials who are managing this project to know that you all are in support of it. … I find with these things, the more that we push, the quicker it can go, but sometimes it has to be nudged along.”
Neighbors said they support the College Prep program at Cohen, but hope steps can be taken to minimize the impact on their quality of life. Neighbor Joan Folse said she is happy Cohen will receive a new building, but said she is concerned that it not be too large for the neighborhood.
“When I look in Cohen’s direction, I see sky. I don’t want to see a high rise,” Folse said. “I would be very upset if it went too high up.”
Kleban said he doesn’t anticipate the size being overwhelming. Cohen currently has only about 400 students, and he doesn’t expect the high school to even grow as large as the current building would hold.
“I don’t really contemplate us having more than 600 in the high school,” Kleban said. “That’s about half the size of the current school in square footage. We’re not going to need as big of a school as is there now.”
As the school’s performance continues to improve, the new building will make it more attractive to the young scholars preparing for college there than the outdated building they currently attend, Kleban said.
“There’s no natural light. It feels like a prison,” Kleban said. “I’m personally really excited to change that for our kids, because they deserve better.”