Fifteen years after New Orleans Charter Science & Mathematics High School leaders said they needed a state-of-the-art campus, officials cut the ribbon Wednesday morning on a $27.5 building strategically located in New Orleans' medical and biosciences corridor.
The 129,716-square-foot, three-story building on Bienville Street in Mid-City will have capacity for 750 students in grades 9 through 12, according to NOLA Public Schools, giving it room to expand enrollment by as much as 49% from its current location on Loyola Avenue in Uptown. The school system hopes to move Sci Hi in January.
The B-rated school is designed to attract future scientists, technology wizards, doctors and more, Orleans Parish School Board member Nolan Marshall said. The new building comes equipped with an outdoor learning space, science laboratories, visual art labs, advanced tech classrooms and a media center.
It's also got a commons space for student interaction, space for large-scale projects, indoor and covered outdoor dining and a hybrid gymnasium-auditorium with staging area for performances and presentations.
"Being able to have young individuals who have a mindset to be in the medical field and tech, to have a place in high school where they can learn and be prepared before they graduate for their career of choice — this is the place," schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said.
City Councilman Jay Banks said the new building is opening at a time when New Orleans is reckoning with its economy - namely, that the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the fragility of a city where tax revenue depends so heavily on tourism.
"COVID is a horrible thing, make no doubt about that. It is terrible. But there will be some good to come about it," Banks said. "We need to have a diversification of talent and of jobs for youth and adults so that our folks can survive independent of fried chicken and changing sheets."
That diversification starts with schools such as Sci High, Banks said, open-enrollment institutions he hopes will help lessen New Orleans' education disparity and in turn ease economic disparity and atrophy a schools-to-prison pipeline.
Monique Cola, the head of Sci High, said that because the school doesn't have selective admissions, any students genuinely motivated and excited by STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- are welcome.
The school's completion also marks definitive progress in the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish, a large-scale construction program initiated with $1.8 billion from FEMA after Hurricane Katrina devastated public school buildings in 2005.