The opening of the Chalmette High School's new Cultural Arts Center is another Katrina comeback story for the residents of St. Bernard Parish in New Orleans, LA. Designed for both public and school use, the center celebrated its grand opening on March 18, 2011.
The project goal was to create a multi-purpose building and performing arts theatre with 400 seats, including a fly loft and orchestra pit. It also offers a 120-seat technology auditorium, music and dance practice spaces, meeting rooms and classrooms. A key component is the library downstairs; the school library directly above.< /p>
The story behind the center’s construction begins with Hurricane Katrina. St. Bernard Parish was hit particularly hard. The Chalmette School District and the surrounding St. Bernard Parish community were decimated by the storm and flooding that followed. The parish lost 22 buildings and the school district was completely destroyed.
The parish used a recovery plan to assess the damage and plan next steps. Chalmette School District Superintendent Doris Voitier worked tirelessly to get things up and running again quickly. She managed the FEMA process and got the approvals required. Ultimately the decision was made to create a multi-purpose building for school as well as for community use. The school district opened 11 weeks after the storm, a miraculous event considering the obstacles and circumstances. The district anticipated the need knowing that the families of first responders, the Exxon & Mobil refineries and the Domino Sugar refinery were calling their employees back to work. On November 14th they opened with 334 students. By December they had 650, by January there were 1,500, and by the end of the school year there were 2,000 students.
They cleaned and gutted the high school’s first floor and cleaned the second floor for classroom use. An emergency construction company worked on the first floor and restored it for use by January 18th and then the school district was able to use the first floor as well. The high school used the second floor for classrooms, the middle school the first floor, and the elementary school used temporary classroom trailers. At times they registered 30 to 40 students a day. Currently, Chalmette School District has 6,000 students. Prior to Katrina there were 8,800.
Now less than six years after Hurricane Katrina the cultural arts program has a facility worthy of the St. Bernard Parish’s perseverance, strength and creativity.
“We are delighted to have this building, as it is an enormous asset to our cultural arts program. As devastating as Katrina has been, we now have a state of the art facility, an opportunity we otherwise would not have had,” explained Beverly Lawrason, Assistant Superintendent of Schools.
The firm, Waggonner & Ball Architects was chosen for the project, with David Waggonner the principal in charge. Project Architect Brian Swanner explained, “The site of the building is half a city block. We wanted to create an inspirational building that announced the recovery of the community and signaled the creativity of the students and educators. The building takes the form of a snaking bar that adapts to the limited site and cradles the curved main theatre volume along its edge. That tall volume is clad in metal panels that accommodate its curving walls. Contrarian Metal Resources' InvariMatte® was chosen because of the high quality and matching of the product. It was recommended by professionals familiar with its properties, and the details of service provided to ensure top results. The working relationships on the project surpassed the norm, with the right quantities of InvariMatte® being shipped as requested at the right time.”
The complexity of the design – its saw-toothed and lapped metal panels – required top skills, and fabricator Overly Manufacturing did an outstanding job working through the details. Rick Chaussinand of Overly explained, “The conceptual drawings were given to the factory manager who determined how to fabricate and install the panels. It was a complex project because of the elongated fin design, which had a pronounced effect, and it also had to be water tight. He had to ensure that the desired results were achieved."
MAPP Construction, the General Contractor, led the way with exceptional exchange of information to all parties involved. GM Horne staggered delivery so that supplies arrived as needed. MAPP worked with Barnes to complete installation as directed.
The stainless steel for the windows was supplied by Pohl Inc. of America. They put the drawings into a 3D model and built a box to determine the best way to install the windows. “The St. Bernard project is a great example of how the use of the same metal finish, in this case InvariMatte® stainless steel, fabricated by two different companies supplying panels to the job can create a unified appearance. The architect’s vision was well executed through the competent work of both Overly and Pohl using our stainless steel,” said Jim Halliday, President of Contrarian Metal Resources.