Stalled renovation plans, property swaps & hopeful revitalization efforts underway for several historic school buildings in New Orleans

The following news briefs appeared in the September issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door nine times a year? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!

McDonogh No. 11 School

Photo by Liz Jurey

The demolition of the 142-year-old McDonogh No. 11 school building this summer was the dramatic denouement to a long and sordid saga. Having been relocated from its original home at the corner of S. Prieur and Palmyra streets, denuded of its ground floor in the process, the Second Empire-style structure was allowed to rot alongside Interstate 10 for a decade. Even so, a 2020 walk-through by staff from the Preservation Resource Center and Wolfe Building Movers confirmed it was stable and could be relocated again, provided a suitable location was found and a new foundation constructed.

The insurmountable hurdles, it turns out, were financial and not technical. Although the Orleans Parish School Board poured $3 million of FEMA-approved funds into the building after Hurricane Katrina, and the state Division of Administration found at least $320,000 more to relocate the building out of the footprint for the new LSU hospital, McDonogh No. 11 remained vacant on the campus of LSU Health Sciences Center. A plan to relocate the building to a city-owned lot never materialized.

In April 2021, when LSU released a request for proposals that allowed for relocation or demolition, it was too late. Perhaps knowing this, the university administration made no attempts to notify PRC or preservation developers. Having been moved from its original home in the Mid-City National Register Historic District, McDonogh 11 was no longer eligible for federal historic rehabilitation tax credits.

LSU would not allow the building to remain on site, nor would it contribute to the cost of repairing the structure. Hence, no right-minded developer could assume the financial risk. Was the building’s relocation merely a ploy to satisfy the City Council, whose sign-off was needed to close public streets, and designed to placate the federal agencies tasked with implementing Section 106 of the Federal Historic Preservation Act?

When it came time to finish the job of saving the historic schoolhouse, the LSU administration’s resolve had evaporated. Numerous other significant educational buildings still dot the cityscape in various states of disuse and disrepair. Will their owners have the resolve to save them from a similar fate?




Holy Cross School

Atop the list of school buildings in dire need of repair is the 1895 administration building for Holy Cross School in the Lower 9th Ward. Holy Cross moved to a new campus in Gentilly after Hurricane Katrina, and the administration building was the only remnant of the campus left standing.

A 2014 redevelopment proposal called for adding twin 60-foot towers between the school and levee — scaled down from 135 feet in response to stiff opposition from community members. The City Council approved the zoning, but the project stalled.

A revised 2019 site plan calling for smaller additions passed muster with the Historic District Landmarks Commission and the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, which had grown increasingly concerned the building could meet the same fate as the Thomas J. Semmes School, which was demolished after partially collapsing. Project architect and co-developer, Perez APC, then made further changes to satisfy the National Park Service criteria for historic rehabilitation tax credits and the local fire marshal only to have the project’s Missouri-based partner, MACO Development Co., abandon the development and others in Louisiana, citing construction costs and pandemic-induced economic challenges.

As of this writing, Perez has informed neighbors it is negotiating with a new development partner in hopes of reviving the project and restoring the historic school before it’s too late.


Alexander P. Tureaud Elementary School

Located in the New Marigny National Register Historic District in the South 7th Ward, the Alexander P. Tureaud Elementary School building is poised to become a new campus for the International School of Louisiana. The International School will purchase the property at fair market value of $1.4 million from the Orleans Parish School Board under a provision of state law that offers existing charter networks the right of first refusal when public school property is deemed surplus. The Art Deco building still bears its prior name, Marie Couvent Public School, embossed near the roofline above the entry. In a move that presages the present-day debate about school nomenclature, it was renamed in the 1990s for Alexander P. Tureaud, an esteemed Civil Rights attorney. Couvent, herself a former slave, later owned enslaved individuals. She and her husband did manumit some of her slaves, and she is best remembered for leaving money in her will to establish a Catholic school for orphans.



Valena C. Jones Elementary School

Mothballed since Hurricane Katrina, Valena C. Jones Elementary School in the 7th Ward is another facility that the Orleans Parish School Board has deemed surplus. At its July meeting, the board was notified that a prospective purchaser has stepped forward from among the educational institutions allowed to make offers on these properties. NOLA Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Tiffany Delcour declined to name the would-be buyer, however, saying that her staff is still verifying the institution’s financial capacity. She then clarified that the financial evaluation is limited to a buyer’s wherewithal to purchase, not renovate a building.

The Valena C. Jones school’s history traces back to the Miro School, established in the early 1900s through the combined organizing and fundraising efforts of the Rev. Alfred Lawless, his Beecher Congregational Church and the Seventh Ward Educational League. It was renamed in 1918 for Valena Cecilia MacArthur Jones, a prominent African American educator. Soon thereafter it began serving as a normal school, training educators who went on to serve citywide. The three-story, red brick building was erected in 1928. Its banded cornice is stained, and its tilting multi-light windows are hidden by metal coverings, but the handsome structure stands ready for restoration.


McDonogh No. 7

Photo courtesy of the Louisiana State Museum

The second William Freret-designed schoolhouse financed by John McDonogh’s estate to make headlines this summer stands in the Touro-Bouligny neighborhood Uptown. In 1877, Freret chose a Gothic Revival style for McDonogh No. 7 similar to another school he had designed nearby, which is now home to St. George’s Episcopal School.

McDonogh No. 7 will be used by Audubon Charter School through the end of the 20121-2022 school year. The Orleans Parish School Board has pledged to transfer the property to the Housing Authority of New Orleans in a swap involving a portion of the B.W. Cooper development adjacent to Booker T. Washington High School.

In June, HANO initiated a process to designate the McDonogh No. 7 property for a planned development. Under the city’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, that designation allows “site-specific flexibility” to encourage “the adaptive reuse of existing structures” and “the master planning of development on larger tracts of land,” among other things. At public meetings required by the city’s Neighborhood Participation Program, HANO described plans to construct apartments for seniors within the historic schoolhouse and develop two-story doubles on land presently occupied by playing fields and parking lots. Neighbors voiced questions about traffic, management and long-term maintenance.

The Preservation Resource Center strongly encourages the use of historic rehabilitation tax credits to renovate the schoolhouse, as has been done with other local school buildings converted to housing. If HANO and its chosen developer commit to using the credits, neighbors will have assurance that the work complies with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, and housing advocates will know that the limited dollars available for affordable housing will stretch 40 percent further thanks to the tax credit.



Martinez Kindergarten

The Martinez Kindergarten campus consists of an assemblage of buildings, three of which likely began as residences fronting N. Roman Street before Interstate 10 sliced through the 7th Ward. Located near the area known as “The Cut,” where streets meet at odd angles, Martinez Kindergarten relocated to the 7th Ward in 1940 after six years in operation uptown on LaSalle Street. At the time, New Orleans did not provide kindergarten for African Americans.

Known as Martinez Nursery School until 1958, the school operated until 2005, preparing local luminaries for educational success, including former New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and musician, composer and artistic director Wynton Marsalis.

Purportedly when entreated by head educator Nuna Martinez, Mayor Victor Shiro agreed to reangle the interstate a few degrees to avoid demolishing the school. However, the decades of disinvestment that followed were not kind to this part of the 7th Ward. Some portions of North Roman Street still lack stormwater catch basins.

The current owners of the kindergarten complex are the heirs of its longtime operators. They have struggled to secure the property from vagrants, vandals and illegal dumping. Worn tires piled high among the weeds beneath Interstate 10 are a bleak reminder of the city’s difficulty preventing this type of activity even on public property. If the owners are able to successfully repair and secure the property, it may well require a coalition of community members who recognize its significance.

Nathan Lott is PRC’s Policy Research Director and Advocacy Coordinator.


Read more about historic school buildings from our September issue of Preservation in Print: Renovations are breathing new life into former school buildings, saving these historic structures for future generations