International School to seek satellite space near Camp Street building, but will add modulars at Westbank site

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The International School of Louisiana'a Camp Street campus.

The International School of Louisiana will begin looking for a satellite location in the Lower Garden District for its younger grades at the Camp Street campus next year and add modular buildings to its Westbank site as its prepares for more growth at each site, its governing board decided Monday.

The location in the former Andrew Jackson school building on Camp Street is filling up as its middle school grades grow, with more and more families staying at ISL into the upper levels while classes decimated by Hurricane Katrina rise into high schools. Specialized rooms such as the art studio have already been converted into classrooms, and the board was considering adding modular buildings on the site in the coming year.

After further review, modular buildings seem likely to provide a reprieve for only about two years, and then the search for more space would be on again, said Head of Schools Sean Wilson. Instead, he recommended moving the remaining administrative spaces (such as his office) to the temporary site in Jefferson Parish for next year to create a little more space at Camp Street, while conducting a thorough search for a more formal satellite location nearby for the lower grades — kindergarten, first grade and possibly second, depending on how much space is found, Wilson said.

Alternatively, the board could move the middle school out of the Camp Street campus, but school leaders believe there are developmental reasons both for giving the youngest students their own space where they won’t be “bombarded” by older kids and for keeping the middle school with the elementary grades.

“We believe that middle schoolers being in this environment, with students younger than they are, gives them a sense of responsibility and keeps them from growing up too quickly,” Wilson said.

Board members have already begun compiling a list of possible locations to investigate, said board secretary Barbara Griffin. One option just down the street may be the old Louise Day nursery just down the street, which received an extensive renovation in the 1990s by the Waldemar Nelson Company, also a noted benefactor of local schools. Another option may be in one of the buildings associated with the nearby St. Alphonsus church. The lot next to the Kinglsey House would be a “dream space” if the lead in the soil there could be remediated, Griffin said. The buildings by the Monkey Room or the old Robert grocery on Annunciation were also mentioned as possibilities to investigate, and Griffin also suggested partnering with the Coliseum Square Association to see if any neighbors have ideas of their own.

“We have a reprieve for this campus for next year, but we can’t relax on this,” agreed board president Andrew Yon.

If no rental can be found over the next year, ISL may then have to build modulars at Camp Street, but they will at least have time to discuss the issue with the neighborhood and the city’s historic review panels, board members said.

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In a separate but related issue, the board decided it would construct a six-classroom modular building at the Olivier Street campus in Algiers. State fire codes require the school’s youngest students to be on a ground floor if upper grades are present, so the school has been looking for more space for that campus as well.

No nearby rentals emerged as strong possibilities, Wilson said, and further, the nearly $1 million Gulf Coast Recovery grant that helped establish the new site expires in the fall, and the school will lose the remaining $374,000 balance if it does not complete its work on the Westbank site this summer. Thus, school leaders plan to spend $141,000 of the grant to install the modular building and about $459,000 on classroom furnishings, split between the remainder of the grant and state per-pupil funding. The lease on the modular building will then be $3,787 per month for four years, according to the winning bid submitted by Sustainable Modular Management Inc.

The four-year lease coincides with the term of the lease for the Holy Name of Mary school buildings, and at that time, ISL can either buy the modular building or return it to SMM depending on whether it remains at the Olivier Street site or moves elsewhere, officials said.

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