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Before Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans under as much as 20 feet of water last week, school facility planners and city officials were already looking at ways to renovate or replace many of the district’s famously rundown schools.
Now, according to one architect there, the district has an opportunity for a new start.
The New Orleans district has been nationally known for its decrepit facilities, many of which have had severe problems with mold, termite damage, and violations of health and safety codes over the years. Few had up-to-date wiring for technology, air conditioning, or accessibility for students with disabilities.
“The schools in New Orleans were considered to be among the worst in the country in terms of state of repair,” Stephen Bingler, the chief executive officer of Concordia Community Planners and Architects, a New Orleans-based firm, said during a business trip to Philadelphia last week.
It will likely be several months or more before schools are back in order in New Orleans and other areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Facility planners said that the water damage and other destruction would require that many schools be rebuilt or completely refurbished. When buildings are inundated with water for days, and possibly weeks, as could be the case in New Orleans, enormous problems with mold and mildew, in addition to structural damage, are likely, they added.
Districts caught up in the storm’s wide swath are “going to face a lot of need for temporary housing, and they’re going to be challenged to be creative in how they look at redevelopment of their school systems,” said Lee Burch, a senior vice president and education practice leader with 3D International, a Houston-based construction firm.
Before Hurricane Katrina struck, New Orleans officials had been meeting with architects and facility planners to assess the poor condition of the school facilities, with the intention of writing a master plan that would guide the repair or replacement of structures that were deemed unusable, Mr. Bingler said.
“With most of the education facilities in New Orleans, there wasn’t much of any consequence that would be used,” he said, including heating systems and boilers, roofs, and electrical systems.
With Katrina’s damage, Mr. Bingler said, “this is a golden opportunity for New Orleans to rebuild its educational facilities in a way that represents best practices.”