By Sharon Lurye, Mid-City Messenger
Construction started in earnest on Monday for a new $38.6 million nursing and allied health building at Delgado Community College’s City Park campus, helped in part by a $20 million donation from the Ochsner Health system.
The 120,000-square-foot building is being constructed at the site of a former parking lot at the corner of City Park Avenue and Orleans avenues.
The building, which will be called the Ochsner Center for Nursing and Allied Health, will bring together Delgado’s Charity School of Nursing and Division of Allied Health under one roof.
Ochsner donated $10 million for the building plus $10 million for scholarships through the Ochsner Scholars program. The rest of the funds came from the state.
The nursing school is currently located downtown in a state-owned building, but Delgado’s lease on that building will run out at the end of 2022. The new school is slated to open in January 2023.
Officials held a ground-breaking ceremony on March 31 for the project and began to take out the parking lot on the site a few weeks ago, but this week was when they started to drill in test pilings.
Designed by Manning Architects of New Orleans and Mackey Mitchell Architects of St. Louis, the building will have an ultra-modern all-glass look.
Local residents have criticized it as out of scale and out of character with the neighborhood. Delgado officials state it was designed to echo the iconic Isaac Delgado Hall next door, which opened in September 1921, by including traditional elements in the contemporary glass-walled design.
The building will have the capacity to serve 1,500 health care students. Right now, Delgado graduates around 1,200 students each year in nursing and other health care professions.
“It benefits the entire health care industry in the region,” said Tony Cook, director of communications at the college.
Officials from Delgado say that the project will not require cutting down any live oak trees. They also said that it will not highly impact parking, as they plan to build a new parking garage in the interior of the campus.
In addition, they say, fewer students need to physically be on campus than in years past: 40% of students were taking online classes in 2019, and COVID-19 has further accelerated the switch to remote learning.
The new construction did not require approval from City Council, as it was allowed within the zoning guidelines for the area, said District A Councilman Joe Giarrusso.
However, he said that he wishes the college had done more to inform the local community about the upcoming construction and how it might impact residents’ lives. “Communication at the very beginning was wanting,” he said.
Delgado spokesman Cook said officials reached out to the City Council, City Park administration, and neighborhood groups to provide information about the project.
Giarrusso said he had spoken with Delgado officials, and the crux of his message was: “We know that you have the ability to do this. We know that neither the council nor the public can stop you from doing this. But what we urge you to do going forward is to be more proactive in your communication.”
However, the councilman said he does support updating the nursing school’s facilities and increasing its capacity for students.
“Obviously, we know there’s a huge health care need in the city of New Orleans,” he said, “and creating more of those jobs is exactly what you want.”
Suzi Cobb, head of the City Park Neighborhood Association, said that the issue had not come up in recent neighborhood meetings. “No one seems to be opposed to it or particularly in favor of it,” she said.
Her own view: “I’m in favor of anything that brings more education to more people at a reasonable price.”
Reporter Sharon Lurye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Information was added to this story on July 18, at Delgado’s request, about the college’s communications on this project.