Backed by local donors, a group of St. Augustine High School alumni have purchased a recently created practice field close to the famed 7th Ward Catholic school.
The field has undergone extensive renovations to serve the school’s students, athletes and marching band.
The newly formed St. Augustine High School Foundation-New Orleans purchased the field at 2525 St. Bernard Ave., near North Broad Street, from the Galatoire Foundation last week.
The Galatoire Foundation bought the property two years ago, demolished the old warehouses that stood there and funded its conversion into a practice field with the goal of passing it on to the St. Augustine Foundation once that group formed with the support of a slate of high-profile donors.
In all, the Galatoire Foundation spent $2 million to buy the land and create the practice field.
The Galatoire Foundation is the charitable nonprofit of Galatoire's restaurant, which is owned by Dathel and John Georges and a group of investors. Dathel and John Georges also own The Advocate.
"The acquisition of this property is a game changer for this great institution,” Justin Augustine, chairman of the school's foundation, said in a news release.
“Having access to these facilities will save our students at least an hour a day. We are so excited for the financial support from the business community, in addition to the resources provided by St. Augustine alumni, all of whom appreciate the contribution that St. Augustine makes to this community.”
Augustine thanked the Georges and the Galatoire Foundation for “taking the initial steps to secure the land and develop it until we were able to secure the support we needed to make this dream a reality.”
“We pursued this blighted property with a vision for a developed green space for students,” John Georges said in a written statement. “We knew we could — in time — rally the business and civic community to enhance their support of St. Augustine High School. Donors from every corner of New Orleans responded incredibly."
Georges said the "young men of St. Augustine are the future leaders of our city. This property and the facilities will be second to none in New Orleans and will become an essential part of what it means to be a part of St. Augustine High School.”
The practice field is being used by the school's physical education programs, its athletic teams and its famous Marching 100 Band, including as it prepares for performances in Carnival parades.
“Improving these programs adds significant value to St. Augustine’s history of developing discipline and leadership in young men that make great contributions to New Orleans and the world,” Justin Augustine said.
The field, formerly the home of the Doussan Company, has been outfitted with fencing, lighting, sprinklers, a scoreboard and an NFL-quality playing and training surface, which was installed last year.
Kenneth St. Charles, the school’s president and chief executive officer, said the purchase of the field is welcome news for a school whose football players and other athletes were long forced to travel to city parks to practice.
“I can’t begin to tell you how excited we are,” he said. “This facility … will help our students’ physical development and give them a place they really can be proud of.”
St. Charles said the new field and the work of the St. Augustine Foundation will also help the school with recruiting and retaining students.
“I can’t begin to tell you how grateful we are to our donors and our board,” he said. “It’s about the school being in a position to be competitive with other schools.”
In addition to Augustine, the St. Augustine High School Foundation-New Orleans' board includes the Rev. Michael Thompson, the superior general of the Society of St. Joseph, which founded and owns the high school; local physician Dwight McKenna; former state legislator Sherman Copelin; New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet; Carnival Cruise Lines President Arnold Donald; and WBOK-AM owner Danny Bakewell.
The donors who helped fund the new foundation's acquisition of the site include Frank and Paulette Stewart, John and Dathel Georges, Todd Graves, Tom and Gayle Benson, Boysie Bollinger, Joseph Canizaro, Tommy Coleman, Harvey Gulf International Marine and Jeff Doussan.