Some see promise in derelict Edgard school

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 15, 2008

Recreation/education center, music academy among proposals for former 2nd Ward High School


Staff Reporter

EDGARD – Off Highway 18 in Edgard, behind a rusted chain link fence, down a short gravel road and under a layer of ever-encroaching ivy stands the derelict 2nd Ward High School.

The school was originally built for black students of the West Bank during the era of segregation. It was turned into a junior high in 1977 before being shut down in 1985 due to school consolidation, said Deputy Superintendent Herbert Smith.

“At one time someone had leased the property to start a plant,” said Smith, who graduated from 2nd Ward in 1965. “I think it was a canning plant. That is the only thing it has been used for in that time.”

In the ensuing period of over 20 years since closing the school, the school board has paid for insurance on the property and the grass has been maintained, but the buildings have been left to ruin.

Nearly all of the windows are broken out, ceiling tiles cover the floors, the roof has fallen in and where students once received instruction plants now grow in the decades of detritus strewn over the floors.

A large hole has formed in one of the gym walls. Also, the gym floor where the Eagles used to play has been used lately to store earthen materials for the St. John Public Works Department, who use the site through an agreement whereby they pay $1 a year to the school board.

Behind the school, in front of the football field where so many hard fought games were played over the years, broken concrete blocks and the tracks of backhoes conjure up images of a war zone. The concession stand is close to falling down and the concrete bleachers behind it are grown over with small trees.

Seven years ago Pastor Neil Bernard of New Wine Christian Fellowship saw 2nd Ward and saw the possibility for something else, a revival of the school into a center the community would be able to use to better themselves.

Bernard, in collaboration with the YMCA of Greater New Orleans, offered to buy the property and turn it into a recreation and education center as well as host site for New Wine’s annual free summer camp for at-risk children. The camp focuses on children who are from single-parent homes or have a parent in prison.

In 2006, because of Bernard’s proposal, the school board opened the site for bidding.

All did not go well, however.

The school board had forgotten to stipulate that the site was to be used for recreation or education only. Local developer Joseph M. Scontrino won the property as highest bidder and the project stalled.

Another year has gone by as the school board has waited for Scontrino to rescind his bid.

Now, renewed interest is being shown in the property.

Antoine Jasmine, director of the faith-based Choice International School of Music in LaPlace says he would like to take over the site to make it into a music academy.

Jasmine said the young people of St. John need the academy because of a lack of variety in music education in the public school system. In addition, he plans for the academy to be open to students of St. John for after school programs for school credit as well as host to music camps for students around the country.

Jasmine said one of the main goals of the academy would be to offer area children a positive image of music rather than the false image that rap promotes.

In addition, Bernard said he also recently put in another proposal for the property to District 1 School Board Member Russell Jack, but does not care if Jasmine gets the property.

“The bottom line is this,” said Bernard. “The property is continuing to deteriorate. Whoever utilizes it is a win-win for the community.”

Jack said before any proposal can be accepted he will need to consult his constituency.

“We ask them to make haste and not drag their feet,” Jasmine said of the school board.