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Old, historic school lies in ruins, neighbors concerned about safety

"You got a road sign saying 'school zone,' but no school sitting there. So, the area is losing its culture," Rev. Bell said.
Credit: WWL-TV

NEW ORLEANS — When you first come across the old school, you noticed the beautiful structure. But the building is marked by graffiti, old wood and brick tossed across the ground.

Behind the bricked and toppled roof lies a historic landmark.

The T.J. Semmes Elementary School building on Jourdan Avenue stood tall during Katrina. Decades before the storm, it was one of the first schools in New Orleans to desegregate. Today, the school is collapsing.

"I was walking my grandson to school and all of a sudden, I heard a loud boom," said Gail Kinebrew, who lives less than a block away from the school in the Lower 9th Ward. 

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"People go in there for all kinds of sorts of reasons. Some people go in there just to have somewhere to sleep. Some people go in there for, a lot of different reasons. I'd rather not say, but a lot of different reasons," Kinebrew said.

The barbed wire gate surrounds the crumbling structure, but you can clearly see holes to get in.  

"You've got a fence up that's suppose to keep people out, but we need people to go in and straighten it up," Reverend Richard Bell, Sr. said. 

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Bell has lived in the Lower 9 for more than 40 years. He's Co-Chairman of the organization called "A Community Voice." 

"The lower 9th ward is fighting to come back. How can we get back..if we've got places like this that people from out of town buying but not want to do nothing to it," Reverend Bell said. 

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He says about two months ago, a fire erupted inside of the decaying walls before the roof collapsed. He's now urging the owners to either bring in a new school or do something useful with the property. 

"You got a road sign saying 'school zone,' but no school sitting there. So, the area is losing its culture," Bell said. 

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Eyewitness News reached out to the owners of the building, TKTMKJ Incorporated. Reporters never received a call back, but one of the owners told partners at the New Orleans Advocate that he believes they'll have to tear it down. For those in the neighborhood, it's more than just a safety hazard. 

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"Katrina might've damaged, but you can build back. They're not trying to build back from Katrina, they're letting everything go," Bell said.