Former McDonogh 19 to reopen as senior housing, civil rights center – New Orleans CityBusiness

By: Andrew Valenti, Reporter February 10, 2022

Photo by Andrew Valenti
Photo by Andrew Valenti
Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

First-floor main interpretive space. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

First-floor main interpretive space. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

First-floor main interpretive space. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Efficiency apartment. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Efficiency apartment. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Efficiency apartment. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Elevator building. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Elevator building. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Elevator building. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Mailroom. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Mailroom. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Mailroom. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Classroom. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Classroom. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

Classroom. Photo courtesy Leona Tate Foundation for Change

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The renovation of the former McDonogh 19 Elementary into senior housing, offices and a civil rights center is nearly complete after two years of various delays, according to members of the redevelopment team.

Leona Tate, executive director and founder of the Leona Tate Foundation for Change – and one of the first students to desegregate the school in the 1960s – said Monday that work at the property is nearly complete and she expects tenants to move in by the end of February. The civil rights center is expected to open in March.

The 40,000-square-foot building at 5909 St. Claude Ave. has been transformed into an interpretive and educational space that will feature exhibits on the first floor showing the history of desegregation in the South and in New Orleans. Office space for the Leona Tate Foundation for Change and People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB) will also be housed on that floor. PISAB, one of the country’s foremost anti-racism training and organizing institutions, will offer classes in its “Undoing Racism” series to students in kindergarten through high school grades.

The former school cafeteria at the rear of the property will accommodate the nonprofit Beloved Community temporarily until it finds a permanent space.

The second and third floors of the Italian Renaissance-style building, designed by local architect E.A. Christy and built in 1929, will house 25 affordable apartments for people who are at least 55 years old. There are nine efficiency units and 16 one-bedroom dwellings that range between 600 square feet to 800 square feet. Tate said rents will vary depending on a person’s income level.

Interest from potential tenants has been very strong, she said.

“Everyone has been calling me,” she said.

Tate said the $16.5 million development, named the Tate Etienne & Prevost Interpretive Center, still needs an additional $2.5 million to build out the exhibits.

The financing structure for the project has included a $500,000 grant from the U.S. National Park Service along with New Markets Tax Credits, private funding and additional funding from the City of New Orleans and the Housing Authority of New Orleans. JPMorgan Chase made a $1.8 million federal historic tax credit investment to help finance the project, which was completed in a partnership between the Leona Tate Foundation for Change and the property’s co-owner, local developer Alembic Community Development.

Manning Architects is listed as the design team, and CDW Services is the general contractor.

The building, shuttered since Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters swamped the area after a breach in the Industrial Canal levee, played an important role during the civil rights movement. In November 1960, Tate and two other African-American first-grade students, Gale Etienne and Tessie Prevost, attended the all-white school under the protection of federal marshals and forced the New Orleans school system to desegregate. The girls took classes there for a year and a half while their peers and neighbors moved to parochial and private schools and other parts of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish.

The redevelopment means that Tate has come full circle from the day she desegregated the school to creating the organization that co-owns the historic site and opening a center to continue the fight against racism and social injustice.

“My dream has come true,” Tate said. “It’s still a dream to me. I just thank God that I lived to see it.”

Alembic director of building programs Mike Grote said there will be an additional exhibit that depicts and interprets the first day that Tate, Etienne and Prevost entered the school and started taking classes.

The project began in February 2020 and was initially expected to be complete a year later, but it has been delayed by various issues.

The development team was able to acquire a demolition permit and was close to securing other permits when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Active hurricane seasons in 2020 and 2021 also slowed work at the site. Grote said there was roof damage to the structure in 2020 which created more delays while waiting for an insurance payout.

“You run into challenges on all projects,” Grote said. “This project takes the cake for me as far as my career goes with how many setbacks we had. It was by no one’s fault other than circumstance and where the world is right now.”

Other local projects Alembic has completed include converting the former St. Rose de Lima church and campus in the 7th Ward into an arts, education and entrepreneurial hub and transforming a long-blighted property in at the corner of Jane Place and Palmyra Street in Mid-City into permanently affordable housing.

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