Columns » Blake Pontchartrain: New Orleans Trivia

Blake Pontchartrain: The former McDonogh No. 11 school building

It’s only one of a handful of remaining schools designed by William Freret

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Hey Blake,

How in the world has the building near Canal and Derbigny Streets survived demolition when almost every other one there was destroyed? The new hospital is complete and yet this building was never touched.
— DEE

Dear Dee,

  The former McDonogh No. 11 school building dates back to the late 19th century, which is one reason preservation groups were able to successfully lobby the state to save it, even as construction on the new University Medical Center consumed the area nearby. Its future remains uncertain.

  The three-story building originally sat at the corner of Palmyra and South Prieur. Constructed in 1878, it is one of only a handful of remaining schools designed by noted architect William Freret, the son of the mayor by the same name.

  McDonogh No. 11 was renovated in 1951. In addition to the years it housed that school, the building also served as the Priestley School of Architecture and Construction and the New Orleans Center for Health Careers (hence the NOCHC letters still seen on the building's exterior). It was restored before Hurricane Katrina, then repaired again after the storm, at a cost of $3 million.

  As plans developed for the 34-acre University Medical Center complex, preservation groups urged the state not to tear down the building, instead suggesting it be incorporated into the hospital plans, which state officials said was "impossible." According to The Times-Picayune, New Orleans City Council members opposed the demolition. "The city of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana and the federal government would all appear to be walking in circles if we use taxpayer dollars to restore a building that, less than five years later, will be torn down for another taxpayer-funded project," council members wrote in a letter to state officials. "It will make no sense to taxpayers, and, frankly, it doesn't make any sense to us."

  The state agreed to preserve the property and beginning in 2011, it was moved three times during hospital construction, finally ending up at its current location. A spokesman for the state Division of Administration said talks about the building are ongoing and the state is optimistic that a permanent home or use for the structure can be found.

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