Robert Morris / Uptown Messenger
Students’ work still hangs on the walls three years after it was turned in, and their art lays strewn about the floor of the old Free School. A few children’s books sit in crates, toys lay abandoned on the dirty floor, and pigeons flutter in and out of the dark fourth-floor attic. To the trained eye, however, the most insidious problem is the sudden dips in the hardwood floor.
The century-old Free School on Camp Street looks as though it was abandoned overnight, as it almost literally was in December of 2009 when critical structural problems were discovered there. Next month, the building is one of seven former school sites around the city scheduled to be auctioned off by the Orleans Parish School Board, raising the possibility that it might finally be redeveloped into something new, or even one day hold students once again.
‘A spongy mass’
In the summer of 2009, the New Orleans Free Academy became the first post-Katrina school to surrender its charter to the state and close. The Crocker Arts & Technology School moved in that fall, but on Dec. 3, the Recovery School District issued an emergency notice that the school would be closed the following day, a Friday, and reopen at the Carver campus on the other side of the city the following Monday. (A month later, Crocker would move again to the former McDonogh 7 building on Milan Street, and this year opened in its own building on Marengo Street.)
The reason for the sudden move, the RSD said, was the completion of a study of “sloping” found inside the building.
“[T]he existing wood timbers that were placed over the piles [in the foundation] had completely deteriorated and is now only a spongy mass,” reads a preliminary engineering report from the time. “This deteriorated condition of the foundation probably occurs to the entire foundation of the building.”
To replace all 400 pilings would cost roughly $600,000, the engineers estimated, and would not include replacing all the utility lines and floors — nor would it level the building. “The repairs will be extremely expensive, slow and will not produce a complete restoration to the building,” the report concludes.
The 25,000 square foot building in the upscale Touro neighborhood of Uptown New Orleans is now appraised at $1.4 million — $1.16 million for the land, and $250,000 for the building — in advance of the Nov. 8 auction. After a showing of the building on Friday morning, a handful of architects and contractors guessed the cost of renovating the building to be around $10 million.