The Phillis Wheatley pre-K-8 School project brought a state-of-the-art facility to the impoverished Iberville-Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. Undergoing revitalization under the auspices of HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, Iberville-Tremé was in dire need of investment in educational infrastructure to improve the chances of success for its students and for the comprehensive neighborhood revitalization envisaged by community leaders. Wheatley School is newly constructed in a highly-distressed low-income census tract, sited one block from the former Lafitte public housing project, now undergoing redevelopment into Faubourg Lafitte, a New Urbanist, walkable, mixed-income housing community.
The post-hurricane problems faced by the Recovery School Districts’ facilities are being addressed through a comprehensive rebuilding effort currently underway called the School Facility Master Plan. This multi-phase $1.8 billion Plan will result in the reconstruction or rehabilitation of 80 schools across the city, in line with projected population estimates. A significant amendment and expanded scope of the plan, caused a financing gap despite the lump-sum settlement of $1.4 billion awarded by FEMA to the Orleans Parish School Board and the Recovery School District. MBS Urban Initiatives CDE stepped in with CDE and equity investor Goldman Sachs to fill the gap in funding to ensure that the Phillis Wheatley School was rebuilt in time for residents to return to the Faubourg Lafitte Community and the transformed Iberville-Tremé Choice Neighborhood.
Wheatley is operated as an open-enrollment public charter school, with no admissions testing or other special requirements. The LEED silver, 98,000 sq. ft. pre-K-8 school created or retained 100 permanent jobs with approximately 30% anticipated to be filled by people with low-incomes and provide key educational infrastructure for the struggling Tremé neighborhood. 550 children, over 90% of whom are eligible for free and reduced lunch, attend the school. In addition to educational benefits, neighborhood schools serve as community anchors and provide much needed services to the area. Wheatley School’s facilities can be accessed after hours for community meetings, parenting classes, extracurricular sports, child care, and community theater or music productions.