Sophie B. Wright high school will be first temporary residents of Johnson school swing space, Carrollton residents are told

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James Weldon Johnson Elementary School on Monroe Street.

A group of Carrollton residents say they were told this week by Recovery School District officials that Sophie B. Wright Charter School will be the first occupants of the James Weldon Johnson School swing space this fall, spending two years there while their Napoleon Avenue building is renovated.

The residents were also told that cost estimates have been reached for renovations to the long-abandoned Priestley site in their own neighborhood, they say.

RSD officials have not responded to requests to confirm accounts of the meetings this week.

Betty DiMarco, a member of the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood Association’s education committee, reported back to the association Thursday night that she attended the meeting with RSD officials Tuesday, and that they were told about plans to move Sophie B. Wright into the space left empty by Johnson’s closing for two years. Crime around the Johnson campus in a violent section of west Carrollton has long been a concern for both neighbors and school officials, and DiMarco said neighbors asked if high school students might be even more likely to get caught up in it than Johnson’s elementary kids were, but both RSD and police officials have ensured them that student safety will be a top priority.

Patrick Young, an organizer for Orleans Public Education Network, said he also attended the meeting and the transition could be a good one, but that he hopes the Sophie B. Wright administration will collaborate with neighbors.

“The idea is to have a community school that operates to build the entire community,” Young wrote in emailed comments to Uptown Messenger. “Will they allow room for community meetings, adult literacy, family assistance, etc.?”

DiMarco also told the Carrollton group that the RSD presented three architectural options for the Priestly site — which the group wants to see rebuilt and reopened as a neighborhood school as other open-admission campuses move out.

  • To renovate the existing 37,000-square-foot, three-story building and adjacent gymnasium would cost about $9 million, the plans show. It would create space for about 18 classrooms, which is fewer than the district would want for a school that has two sections per grade from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, DiMarco says they were told.
  • The second option would be to renovate the existing buildings, plus add a new 50,000 square-foot addition that would raise the total cost to about $21.5 million.
  • The third option would be to renovate the existing building, demolish the gym, and build a slightly larger 56,000-square-foot addition. That cost would be closer to $22 million, according to the report DiMarco received.

The citywide facilities master plan allocates about $16 million for the Priestley project, if it is feasible, so DiMarco said the neighborhood was told the project was unaffordable. Neighbors — though they love the historic building, designed by architect E. A. Christy — have attached less importance to the building than to the site itself, however, and DiMarco said they plan to keep pressing the RSD for other options that may be affordable.

The entire plan remains speculative, however, as cost overruns on projects that have already started deplete the amount of money remaining for those such as Priestley that are farther down the list of priorities. Young said he believes it could be five years before officials begin moving on the Priestley.

“The Priestley project is about money, and right now there isn’t enough money to build,” Young said.

3 thoughts on “Sophie B. Wright high school will be first temporary residents of Johnson school swing space, Carrollton residents are told

  1. You Carrolton neighbors should be on here cheering that you’re getting a good neighbor. The SB Wright band is a pleasure to hear in the afternoons. Their football team practices at Lawrence Sq. Park and are fun to watch. The kids I see in the streets in uniform are well behaved. Principal Clark has won awards for her leadership. From everything I see, SB Wright deserves kudos for bringing a struggling school back. Keep up the good work, Faculty, Students and Families!

    • Hi Clark!

      We’re all more than happy to welcome you guys to the neighbourhood and can’t wait to see and hear the band marching through the streets of Carrollton.

      I hope that the Sophie B. Wright family will take these next two years as an opportunity to get really involved with out neighbourhood and redevelopment efforts.

      Together we hope to ensure your stay at the Johnson site is a pleasant and mutually beneficial and productive one for your school and our community.

      Welcome aboard!


      • Drew, thanks for the kind words, but I won’t be in the hood much. I’m a neighbor of SB Wright at their current location. I hope they are as good neighbors to you as they have proven to be for us.

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