The sign for the former Israel Meyer Augustine Middle School remains standing in the yard in front of the old building in Mid-City’s South Broad Street. Aside from a few cracks in the facade, and security shutters sealing the windows, it’s easy to imagine children filing out the abandoned New Orleans school building tomorrow, skipping down its signature grand staircase.
The building’s innards, however, reveal a different story. Paint peels off the rusted doorways, and a layer of dust covers floors stripped of their former furnishings. Sunlight peers in through cracks in the window sills and parts of the second floor ceiling are missing altogether, revealing the support rafters above. An old safe sits abandoned in a classroom with an antique sink and built-in shelving, near an abandoned eggshell that once housed a baby pigeon.
But the 81,931-square-food building on 425 South Broad Street, which was flooded by Hurricane Katrina, may house a school once more. That’s because it’s up for auction for the city’s numerous charter school operators, who get first dibs at surplus buildings owned by the Orleans Parish School Board.
Located near police headquarters, the structure is worth at least $2.1 million, according to a 2012 appraisal. The building was stabilized using Federal Emergency Management Agency money after an assessment was done in 2009, deeming that the building was of one of several “that are either contributing resources to historic districts that are listed in the [National Register of Historic Places], or are individually eligible for NRHP listing.”
Previously named Samuel J. Peters, and then Commercial High School, the former Augustine school was built in 1913 by architect E.A. Christy, who designed and supervised OPSB school projects at the turn of the 20th century, along with architect Charles Colbert.
International School of Louisiana ‘weighing options’
State law says that charter schools must be given the opportunity to buy surplus buildings before they go to auction, according to Kathy Padian, Deputy Superindentent at OPSB. But she says so far, the only charter that’s expressed interest in purchasing the school is International School of Louisiana.
On Wednesday, when the school was opened for a two-hour viewing period for charter organizations, ISL facilities director Aviva Le accompanied two board members as they examined the crumbling building by flashlight.
“We’re doing some site viewing and weighing our options to see what’s out there,” Le said.
Operated as a BESE charter, ISL currently has three campuses in Louisiana. In New Orleans, the school operates Uptown at 1400 Camp Street and in Algiers at 502 Olivier Street. Another campus is located in Metairie, at 8101 Simon Street.
The school is hoping to move from the Camp Street campus because of overcrowding, Le added. Right now, the Camp campus “is very tight,” Le said, and has students crammed into modular buildings on a temporary basis.
The school is weighing all options because the options available are limited, Le added.
“If you look at the landscape, there’s not that many buildings available for charter schools for us to pick and choose from,” Le said. “We also have to consider the renovation’s time.”
According to Le, renovations for the Augustine building would be a “humongous challenge.”
“That would be one of the most major capital investments we’ve ever made,” Le said. “I would have to get an architecture survey or report on the structure of it. We’d have to do all of the wiring and the flooring. And there’s numerous places where we’d have to do termite treatment.”
Moreover, she added, the foundation seems to be sinking.
Because the building is also in a historic district, Le said it could run anywhere from $7-10 million “easily” to do those kinds of renovations. And that means that the school has to be realistic about renovating buildings like Augustine, she added.
“Depending on how much it costs, it might be cost-prohibitive for us,” Le said. “We don’t have unlimited funding.”
Augustine one of many buildings on surplus list
Augustine isn’t the only abandoned school building on the OPSB surplus property list. Many of those properties will be opened up for charter organization tours, starting this week.
Another Mid-City property, the former A.J. Bell Jr. High School & Annex on 1010 North Galvez, will be ready to view later this month, Padian said.
The Bell building was originally scheduled for viewing this week, but was pushed back because of ongoing remediation work.
Spanning approximately 77,587 square feet, the Bell building was appraised at nearly $2 million in 2012, according to OPSB.
The complete schedule of preview dates “exclusively” for charter school operators to see OPSB surplus school buildings is below:
1:30 to 3:30 p.m. – Augustine MS, 425 South Broad St.
Monday, June 9
9:00 to 11:00 a.m. – Hansberry ES, 1339 Clouet St.
1:30 to 3:30 p.m. – Armstrong ES, 5909 St. Claude Ave.
Tuesday, June 10
1:30 – 3:30 p.m. – Mondy ES, 2327 St. Philip St.
Wednesday, June 11
9:00 to 11:00 a.m. – Priestley Jr. HS, 1619 Leonidas St.
1:30 to 3:30 p.m. – Audubon Ext. (Carrollton Courthouse), 719 So. Carrollton Ave.
Private developers and community members will be invited to tours later in the process, according to Padian.