Work Begins on New Charter School in New Orleans

The Bayou District in New Orleans celebrated another milestone on November 11: the groundbreaking for a new charter school building at Columbia Parc. When the building opens in January 2019, it will house both elementary and college prep programs (kindergarten through eighth grade). The new school is the next step in the 12-year journey of the Bayou District Foundation investing in children and families to create good health outcomes and social and economic mobility in a corner of the city heavily impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

Earlier this year the New Orleans Planning Commission approved the plan for the $26 million charter school for the neighborhood. KIPP, the foundation’s charter school partner, will move the KIPP Believe elementary school and KIPP Believe College Prep school to the facility when it is completed. The two schools are currently located in two buildings in different neighborhoods, so the new building will bring all the students together at one campus. Along with an early childhood learning facility operated by Educare and serving some 168 children, the addition of KIPP Believe will help the neighborhood achieve one of the pillars of the Purpose Built Model – a high-quality cradle- to-college education pipeline.

The new facility will include 54 classrooms, a cafeteria and gymnasium and serve over 800 students. It is funded through a combination of New Market Tax Credit equity, philanthropy, bank debt and one of the first low-cost loans from the “Equity with a Twist” program of the Low Income Investment Fund and JPMorgan Chase, which supports solutions to long-term, intergenerational poverty.

KIPP Believe students break ground on their new school building at Columbia Parc. Credit: KIPP New Orleans

Columbia Parc, a development of nearly 700 new mixed-income apartments that replaced the St. Bernard public housing project, is another success story in the Bayou District. It’s fully leased (and has been since opening in 2010) and offers a safe, welcoming place for families with a variety of incomes. Crime in the neighborhood has plummeted. Between 2001 and 2005, the St. Bernard public housing development, which occupied 52 acres in the neighborhood, witnessed some 684 felonies and 42 murders. Today, crime is virtually nonexistent.

In April, a new championship golf course opened in City Park. Bayou Oaks at City Park is the third jewel in the crown of the extraordinary public-private partnership to rebuild and revitalize the Gentilly neighborhood and provide opportunity to the individuals and families who live there. The golf course, when stabilized,  is expected to generate roughly $500,000 per year to support programming and education at Columbia Parc.

The idea of using a golf course as a revenue generator to support neighborhood transformation came from the East Lake neighborhood in Atlanta. The PGA Tour Championship has taken place at East Lake each year since 2004. That tournament, along with ancillary events such as the East Lake Invitational and Party on the Green generate more than $2 million each year for the East Lake Foundation.

The Bayou District Foundation continues its work to bring the neighborhood back and provide pathways out of poverty for its residents. It has taken patience and perseverance to accomplish what the board set out to do 12 years ago when the Bayou District Foundation began its work. As the foundation’s founding chairman Gerry Barousse noted at the opening of Bayou Oaks, it’s the work of the many people and organizations who believed in the dream and turned it into reality.