NEW ORLEANS -- Spend a few minutes at the lakefront, and you can see the construction crews making progress as they rebuild the New Canal Lighthouse.
Work on the historic structure at West End is generating a lot of interest from visitors to the lakefront, and even the staff at the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, which has spearheaded the project, is impressed.
"It's just inspirational, it's terrific," grinned Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation Executive Director Dr. John Lopez. "I mean it's something that we've been envisioning for years, and just to see it happening is just amazing. I mean we're so excited."
The New Canal Lighthouse was built in 1890, and the red and white structure was a bright spot on the lakefront until it was smashed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation raised $420,000 to take it apart, salvage it and start construction on the new one. They raised it 18 feet to be above storm surge level, and built to new hurricane standards.
Work is even two weeks ahead of schedule.
"All vendors that we're working with are very excited about this project, and we're using all local vendors," said head contractor Prom Dagoglou of Certified Construction Professionals.
It's not just a construction project; they're rebuilding history. The restored lighthouse will become a museum depicting the Lake Pontchartrain ecology and the devastation caused by Katrina.
"Oh I think it's tremendous," Lopez said. "I kind of look at this as kind of the crown jewel of the lakefront. I mean you can see it all the way down, driving down Lakeshore. It is such a symbol of the lakefront. Of course we'll have a lot of people coming in, learning about the lake, and the environmental issues, the history of the lakefront."
The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has been working on this project for nearly six years now, and it's been funded by donations large and small, from individuals, to corporations, to companies helping to restore the lighthouse.
But even though the work is underway now, the foundation still needs help with fund raising to complete the lighthouse.
"We have we think just enough money to finish the structure itself, and to do some of the displays," said Lopez. "However, what we really need is funding for the entranceway, the plaza. Right now we are pushing to raise $250,000 for this plaza entranceway of the lighthouse. We really need to do that before we can re-open the lighthouse."
You can still buy a personalized brick that will become part of that entranceway. For more information, call the lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation at 836-2215, or visit their website at http://www.saveourlake.org.