LSU tears down New Orleans school building despite taxpayer-funded renovation

By: - June 23, 2021 6:09 pm

McDonogh 11, a 142-year-old New Orleans school, began demolition in June. (Photo by Liz Jurey, Courtesy of the Preservation Resource Center)

Despite objections from preservationist groups, LSU has moved ahead with demolishing McDonogh No. 11, a 142-year-old New Orleans elementary school that has undergone millions of dollars of publicly-funded renovation and moving.

The LSU Health Science Center, which bought the building to make room for the University Medical Center, will build a clinic where McDonogh 11 currently stands. 

Edwin Murray, vice chancellor of the LSU Health Science Center, said in a phone interview last year McDonogh 11 was actually approved for demolition in 2010. Since then, the building has been moved three times by the state because preservationists wanted the building saved. The LSU Health Science Center had no desire to tear down the building, Murray said.

Ernie Ballard, a spokesperson for LSU, said the university “offered it to a number of preservationist groups but no one ultimately stepped up to do something with it.”

Danielle Del Sol, executive director of the Preservation Resource Center, said developers “desperately wanted to save” McDonogh 11, but the costs of moving and renovating the building were too much.

“I just think it’s a waste. I don’t really know how else to describe it,” she said. Tax payers have spent over $3.5 million renovating and moving the building since Hurricane Katrina, according to a report from Nola.com, including a $3 million renovation with FEMA funds.

“It’s a real shame that the LSU didn’t have the vision to move it themselves, to rehab it and make it a beautiful part of their new hospital complex,” Del Sol said.

In this photo taken June 18, 2020, the old McDonogh 11 building (which more recently was the home of New Orleans Center for Health Careers) rests on shoring on the campus of the University Medical Center in New Orleans. The building was moved from its original location at Palmyra and South Prieur streets to make way for the medical center. LSU Health Science Center has sent a memo to the LSU Board of Supervisors recommending demolition of the 1878 building. (Photo by Jarvis DeBerry)

Like so many other schools in New Orleans, McDonogh 11 was named for John McDonogh, a slave owner who died in 1850 and left half his considerable fortune to build schools in New Orleans and his native Baltimore. A bust of McDonogh outside New Orleans City Hall was pulled down last year during a Take Back Pride rally organized by the New Orleans Workers Group. The statue, which was tossed into the Mississippi River, was retrieved the next day.  

Malcolm Suber, the co-founder of Take ‘Em Down NOLA, a group philosophically opposed to any commemorations of slave owners and white supremacists, said to the Illuminator last year, wasn’t familiar with this particular school, but opposes structures that honor slave holders.

“We, of course, are opposed to any public building named after John McDonogh. We don’t think he should be revered. Any slave holder. Any racist. Any white supremacist is not worthy of public adulation whatsoever,” he said. 

Del Sol said she understands where advocates who want the site demolished are coming from, but believes there could have been an opportunity to “change the narrative of the horrible things that may have happened there” and repurpose the site, similarly to how Leona Tate repurposed McDonogh 19 as a New Orleans Civil Rights museum and affordable housing for seniors.

Ballard said he isn’t aware of any factors that played into deciding to demolish McDonogh 11 for LSU beyond financial ones.

Demolition is scheduled to be completed in September, Ballard said.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is an award-winning journalist at The Louisiana Illuminator. Canicosa has previous experience at Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.

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