City officials gave an initial endorsement last week to Children’s Hospital’s plan to tear down several long-dilapidated residential structures along one edge of the former New Orleans Adolescent Hospital campus and replace them with a new parking structure intended to unify the two medical campuses into one.
Preservationists have sought to have the entire former NOAH site — also known as the former site of the Marine Hospital, built in 1931 — formally designated as a local historic landmark, which would give the city more control over any changes to the buildings there.
When hospital officials and preservationists met before the Historic District Landmarks Commission in March, however, they described a compromise that would allow Children’s Hospital to tear down six of the 15 buildings on the Henry Clay Avenue edge of the NOAH site.
“These are residential structures, other than the administrative annex, which really do not lend themselves to adaptive reuse for a state-of-the-art facility for the care of children, especially those with compromised immune systems,” attorney Justin Schmidt said. “They are riddled with asbestos and lead paint, and the abatement on them would simply not be practical.”
On Monday, Children’s Hospital officials appeared before the Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory Committee — which governs demolition requests at the site while the landmark designation is still pending — to move forward with the demolition plans.
They also presented a master plan for a $250 million redevelopment that showed in detail the changes they propose.
Six structures — known as buildings 10-15 on the master plan — will be torn down. Five (buildings 11-15) are old residential structures — four houses and an apartment building — that sit just inside the wall along Henry Clay Avenue. Building 10 is a former administration annex, which Schmidt said is “condemned completely.”
The space freed up by buildings 14 and 15, which are close to the Tchoupitoulas side of the site, will become a parking garage with a bridge over Henry Clay to the main Children’s Hospital campus. The garage also will replace part of Building 10.
Toward the river side, buildings 11 and 12 will be replaced by an expansion of the Critical Care Building, aligned across Henry Clay Avenue with a similar expansion at the main Children’s campus.
The center axis of the site — where buildings 10 and 13 sit — will line up with a new entryway to the main campus.
Finally, two small buildings will be repositioned.
The former Commandant’s House will move from the Henry Clay side to the State Street side of the NOAH site, where it will be surrounded by more green space. The caretaker’s cottage at the corner of Henry Clay and Tchoupitoulas will be rotated to fit more squarely within the perimeter of the property.
The master plan describes two other areas for future development. Phase 2 would be clinical infill at the Children’s Hospital main campus, and phase 3 would be new construction along the State Street side.
City officials have expressed a strong desire that redevelopment of the NOAH site should, as much as possible, unify it with the existing Children’s Hospital into a single medical complex, Schmidt told the committee, so much of the design expresses that priority.
“There’s very much a need, even a mandate from the city, to integrate these two properties into one, so they don’t read as two separate pieces of property,” Schmidt said.
The nine buildings most highly rated by preservationists will all be renovated and returned to medical use, and the long Tchoupitoulas side of the NOAH campus will continue to look the same way it has historically, including Building 8, a duplex to be preserved that looks the same as those being torn down, Schmidt said.
The hospital also will harvest historical architectural elements from the buildings it tears down — including some of the old bricks — to be used in new structures in the future, he said.
The new parking garage is intended to alleviate parking problems at Children’s Hospital that spill into the surrounding neighborhood, hospital CEO Mary Perrin said.
At present, much of the hospital’s designated overflow parking is in a long lot along the backside of the NOAH campus, which requires such a long walk that some visitors choose to park in the neighborhood instead. Placing the garage within a breezeway’s distance from the main campus should serve patients and neighbors alike, Perrin said.
“It’s important that this be as close to the hospital as possible,” she said.
The campus expansion is not expected to dramatically increase the number of people working at Children’s Hospital, Perrin said, but it will spread them out more appropriately. For example, one of the hospital’s two MRI units is housed in a trailer, exposing patients to the weather on their way to it; the expansion will give it a permanent location indoors.
Many of the physicians’ offices will move from the Children’s campus into the main hospital building on the NOAH site.
The demolition requests won overwhelming support from the committee. The four residential buildings were approved for demolition unanimously. Buildings 10 and 13 — the administration building and the apartment house — each passed 8-1.
Jenel Hazlett, the lone vote against their destruction, questioned whether those buildings could be preserved and still allow for construction of the parking garage.
The changes must still be approved by the City Council.