Sunday, September 21, 2008

Master Plan Truths


The School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish is a document designed by the private planning partnership between Concordia and Parsons. It, if adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), will represent the blueprint guiding the future capacity of public schools as an institution for learning in New Orleans.

- Though misleadingly billed as a "building boom" on occasion, the facilities master plan, in the word of planners, "landbanks" over 60 schools, which means that the schools will be demolished or shuttered indefinitely. Though the master plan has a rough view of schools that may be eligible for phase two construction, because there is no funding for anything beyond phase one, there is no timeline for reopening of any schools that do not receive the phase one designation.

- Some of the schools slated to be landbanked are not amongst those currently too badly damaged to be occupied by students. In fact, according to Francine Stock's incredibly useful map of the schools slated for landbanking, there are ten high school facilities currently open and serving children slated for closure by 2013. Just one of the ten academic programs functioning within those buildings is being promised relocation to another neighborhood. Those schools include such storied cultural intuitions as Carver, Douglass, O.P. Walker, Karr, Schwartz, McMain, Abramson, Rabouin, Cohen, and John McDonogh.

- Though these institutions have had their share of academic challenges, perhaps none has been more difficult to confront than those related to the traumas related to Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent displacements and relocation. These community anchors and the human beings serving inside represent a stabilizing force for recovering areas of the city. Rather than promoting stability and continuity within these already-open bridges to healing, the master plan pulls the rug out from under the talented administrators striving to institute "school reform" in the here and now. What now is the incentive for principals and teachers to implement a long term academic culture when the district is sending the message that their school programs are being written out of existence? After all that work to eliminate the baby-sitter service mentality that had set in at many schools, principals and teachers are essentially being informed that the programs they're working so hard to implement are actually themselves nothing more than placeholders for yet another academic sweep in 2013.

- Rather than embracing the urbanity of our community, the acreage requirements that inform the closure of many schools located in dense neighborhoods impose an arbitrary suburban-style benchmark that actually has no real correlation with academic performance. This design preference of Concordia-Parsons forces the school district to waste precious time and money negotiating land acquisitions and swap transactions when there are buildings open right now that could be renovated at prices cheaper than building new. Further, the suburbanized campus vision and the neighborhood school closures that the policy necessitates flies in the face of national trends predicting a re-migration to cities and the best academic research on long term environmental benefits of 're-densification' of urban cores spread thin during white flight's asphalt boom.

-Far from "agnostic in respect to operator," the facilities master plan provides no path to funding for any construction beyond phase one and explicitly raises the specter that future school capacity expansion could be left to private operators.

Readers, please treat this as a living blog post to be modified in a collaborative fashion. This is meant to represent a starting point for criticism of the facilities master plan. Please tack on additional concerns or edit those that I've opened with to be more cogent frames. By boiling down the repercussions of this master plan, we will be equipped with a helpful starting point from which to engage uninformed neighbors and confront misinformed adversaries.


Cade said...

Given what we know about property values and the indefinite period before the properties will be required again, why is landbanking proposed? Surely it would be in the taxpayers interest to sell the properties now, bank the cash or use the cash for the educational system and in the future use the eminent domain to seize property for building schools as necessary.

Just saying, it doesn't seem like a very fiscally responsible plan.

E said...

Would you expand on that point? Are you saying that the current real estate market does not maximize the resale value of the properties being landbanked? Or are you saying that the landbanking process merely delays the liquidation of properties?

Cade said...

<< Are you saying that the current real estate market does not maximize the resale value of the properties being landbanked? Or are you saying that the landbanking process merely delays the liquidation of properties? >>

Landbanking is simply saying they are going to hold on to the land so that they can sell it at a future date (or potentially re-use it).

By committing to landbanking as the chosen option they are committing that the return on the sale will exceed the return on the money invested elsewhere.

Property values are not guaranteed to go up - one has to question whether this assumption of best return is true (even in New Orleans' contrarian property market).

Perimeter security and liability insurance will need to be maintained as will any maintenance - all costing money.

The period the land will be sold or put back into use is indeterminate and potentialy infinite given the slow pace of recovery in New Orleans and uncertain needs. One has to question whether the return would be greater if the property was to be sold now and the proceeds invested elsewhere, whether in securities or in the education system itself.

Francine Stock said...

The failure to specifically define "land banking" is one of the more serious flaws in the master plan. One might naively assume that properties that are eligible for the national register would be sold for adaptive reuse. However, the planners are very vague about this. I fear that more often, they are looking at a FEMA funded demolition as means to clear the site and bank the land only, not the building.

E said...

Beyond that, it appears to me that the 50% damaged bench mark is determined in a sometimes arbitrary fashion without separate consideration for school campuses with different buildings of varying structural integrity.

Karen said...

If the school property is within the NCDC district it will have to go before the Committee for review before demolition.

The rough outline of the NCDC is below I610 to the Jefferson Parish line and out to the Lower 9th.

In order to bypass this Committee the property would have to be over 70 percent damaged.

Francine Stock said...

Have you seen this map?

It was created by FEMA and shows grant monies allocated to the individual schools. I'm really not sure precisely how this relates to the master plan and how FEMA made these widely varying judgements. Some facilities have grants of as low as $127 (Mahalia Jackson: under renovation), others are over $24 million (Woodson, slated for demolition).

mominem said...

FEMA has issues funding demolition of historically significant buildings, however money is the classic example of fungibility. So FEMA money might not be used for the actual demolition, and local funds used instead, but the FEMA money allows the local funds to be freed up to do the demolition.

cm said...

By getting us to think about schools as buildings, and by promoting this master plan as a plan ABOUT buildings, Concordia Parsons is messing with peoples' heads. Schools are about communities that solidify in the school building and extend much further out and back in. If NOPS had begun with the question of what schools/communities/neighborhoods need these funds instead of asking what buildings need the funds then they'd have arrived at a very different answer.
This is a bit off the topic of landbanking, but does anyone know if the supposed system of "neighborhood" elementary schools will actually function as such a system? Or will it continue to move towards the trend in NO today of elementary schools with lottery-based admissions and no attendance boundaries?