Letters From Our Readers

Please note: Letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Urban Conservancy. If you have a letter, or wish to respond, please contact us.

Letter regarding University Medical Center Design and McDonogh 11 School

1050 South Jefferson Davis Parkway, Suite 301
New Orleans, LA 70125

April 6, 2011

Mitchell J. Landrieu, Mayor
New Orleans City Hall
1300 Perdido Street
New Orleans, LA 70112

Arnie Fielkow, Councilmember-At-Large
New Orleans City Hall, Room 2W40
1300 Perdido Street
New Orleans, LA 70112

Dear Mayor Landrieu and Council President Fielkow:

NEWCITY Neighborhood Partnership is a diverse coalition of over seventy community organizations, developers, healthcare providers, faith-based groups, schools and government agencies that are committed to catalytic, place-based development in the Tremé/Lafitte and Tulane/Gravier neighborhoods of New Orleans. NEWCITY formed its Hospital Design Working Group in the summer of 2010 to advocate for a more urban and sustainable design for the University Medical Center. We were consulted for the UMC Peer Review Assessment commissioned by the City in July 2010, and on several occasions in that report, the authors recommended that the UMC coordinate with NEWCITY to create a better design.

Though the State of Louisiana and Louisiana State University have since reduced the amount of surface parking on site, the UMC plan still occupies too much land and closes streets unnecessarily. While the State has agreed to an access easement that will allow the public to continue using the street grid between South Claiborne Avenue and South Roman Street for the time being, we urge the City to retain the public rights of way between these two streets so that they may remain open indefinitely.

New Orleans’ largely intact street grid for centuries has fostered transportation efficiency, connectivity and the success of our compact and walkable neighborhoods, including the Central Business District. The grid is a hugely valuable asset to be protected as much as possible from the pressure to close streets for suburban-style superblocks like that originally proposed for the UMC. In addition, the city’s open street grid makes it possible to consider turning the elevated I-10 expressway over Claiborne Avenue into a surface-level boulevard. The grid gives drivers options to avoid congestion. Closing South Roman and South Derbigny Streets-and the portions of Cleveland and Palmyra Streets between South Claiborne and South Roman-will increase the difficulty of making the surface-level boulevard work. This will undercut the city’s current federally funded study of Claiborne Corridor improvements.
Moreover, we are alarmed that demolitions within the proposed UMC footprint have begun and continue despite major design flaws and despite a remaining $400-million gap in financing. We ask the City to compel the State and LSU to halt demolitions until the project’s financial issues are resolved.

Perhaps the most alarming of the proposed demolitions is that of McDonogh No. 11 School. Built in 1879, McDonogh 11 is a Selected Landmark within the Mid-City Historic District. The Orleans Parish School Board renovated the school before Hurricane Katrina and again afterward. However, the UMC’s current design plan proposes to replace the building, in part, with a surface parking lot. This proposition is particularly shortsighted given the chronic shortage of habitable public school buildings in New Orleans. In 2008 when the Louisiana Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish School Board collaborated to adopt a School Master Facilities Plan, there were 6,000 students in modular temporary buildings. In 2008 when the Louisiana Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish School Board collaborated to adopt a School Master Facilities Plan, there were 6,000 students in temporary modular buildings. Though the RSD and OPSB have already committed $440 million of the $1.8 billion program, there are still 6,000 students in modular buildings today. Under the circumstances, we urge the City to continue working with the State to avoid demolishing this usable public school building.

NEWCITY was encouraged to see the February 28th letter from City Council Members to the State requesting that the UMC incorporate McDonogh 11 into its design. We agree with the Council Members’ observations, and we recommend first and foremost that the building remain in place and that the University Medical Center be redesigned to accommodate the school. The current site plan can easily be modified to accommodate McDonogh 11 by shifting the proposed buildings closer to Galvez Street and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Furthermore, the BioDistrict has stated (most recently in its February 2011 online planning survey) that it would like to open a math and sciences charter school. McDonogh 11 could house the charter school’s operations on the UMC site.

Last week the State wrote to the Mayor and City Council that it would dedicate up to $3 million to relocate McDonogh 11. However, we strongly recommend that McDonogh 11 be left in place until the State has demonstrated that it is ready to begin construction and relocation becomes absolutely necessary. Relocating the building before then may prove premature, if not wholly unnecessary, and would waste both State funds and the City-owned land onto which the State proposes relocating the building. LSU may have to redesign the UMC, possibly shrinking its footprint, and the new design may not require the McDonogh 11 site at all.

If the building ultimately needs to be moved to allow for actual construction of the UMC, we recommend that it not be moved to the location of the former Crime Lab of the City of New Orleans (2900 block of Tulane Ave). Rather, we recommend that McDonogh 11 be moved to the edge of the UMC site, to the block bounded by Tulane Avenue, South Roman Street, Palmyra Avenue, and South Derbigny Street. According to the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement between the City and State on August 29, 2010, this block (Block 438) is currently designated for greenspace and would remain so until an expansion of the UMC becomes necessary and the Mayor provides written approval. Moving the building to this site would thus save the State from having to build and maintain greenspace on that block. Should expansion become necessary, the State and LSU would have ample time redesign the second portion of the UMC to incorporate the building. The scale of McDonogh 11 matches that of the buildings surrounding Block 438, which include the Louisiana Cancer Research Center and Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church, and the school would nicely complement the ground-floor retail in the proposed adjacent parking structures along Tulane Avenue. Furthermore, Block 438 is considerably closer to McDonogh 11’s current location than the site of the former Crime Lab is, and moving the building here would avoid having to transport it along or across major streets including Galvez Street, Broad Street, and Tulane Avenue. If the building must be moved in order to preserve it, this option is surely the most feasible and least expensive.

In the event that the Orleans Parish School Board opts to relinquish McDonogh 11, we request that the City and State work with NEWCITY Neighborhood Partnership, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, BioDistrict and other appropriate development entities to facilitate relocation and reuse options for the building. Such an arrangement has already been established for structures within the VAMC site.

We thank the City for its continued efforts to ensure the best possible design for the University Medical Center and for this opportunity to provide input. We sincerely hope that the City will consider our recommendations before the City Council hears the State and LSU’s renewed request for street revocations within the planned UMC site. This is perhaps the City’s last chance to halt potentially unnecessary demolitions until the UMC’s financing is definite, and to require that the State and LSU redesign the UMC to be closer to Galvez Street and to incorporate McDonogh No. 11.

Sincerely,

The following members of NEWCITY Neighborhood Partnership:
Broad Community Connections
Community Advancement
Congress for the New Urbanism
Claiborne Corridor Improvement Coalition
Foundation for Historical Louisiana
Friends of Lafitte Corridor
Lagniappe Project of New Orleans
National Trust for Historic Preservation
NewCorp Business Assistance Center
New Orleans College Preparatory
Preservation Resource Center
Providence Community Housing
SaveCharityHospital.com
Smart Growth for Louisiana
The Urban Conservancy

CC:
Councilmember-At-Large Jacquelyn Clarkson
Councilmember Susan Guidry
Councilmember Stacy Head
Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer
Councilmember Cynthia Hedge-Morrell
Councilmember Jon Johnson
Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin
Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant
Mr. William Gilchrist
Ms. Yolanda Rodriguez
Mr. George Amedee
Mr. Robert “Bobby” Yarborough
Ms. Elaine Abell
Dr. Byron Harrell
Mr. Stanley Jacobs
Mr. T.A. “Tim” Barfield, Jr.
Mr. Donald “Boysie” Bollinger
Dr. Christopher Rich
Mr. David Voelker
Mr. Darryl Berger
Mr. Alden McDonald, Jr.
Mr. Charles Teamer
Governor Bobby Jindal
Mr. Paul Rainwater
Mr. Jerry Jones
Ms. Sandra Strokes
Secretary Shaun Donovan
Deputy Secretary Ron Sims
Ms. Shelley Poticha
Mr. Fred Tombar

Apr 6 2011