Cristo Rey to reopen flooded Baton Rouge campus in January

Contractors have completed construction on the new modular buildings of Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School, which was flooded in August 2016 just one week after opening for its inaugural school year.

Cristo Rey officials had originally hoped to be back on their north Baton Rouge campus, which is the site of the former Redemptorist High School, by the beginning of the current semester. But assembly of the seven modular buildings took a little longer than anticipated. Now, they say they’ll be ready to reopen when the new semester begins in January.

Since the flood, Cristo Rey has been operating out of vacant, donated office space in the Bon Carré Technology Center. Cristo Rey President Brian Moscona says the school is grateful for the donated space but needs to be back in a campus environment that is more conducive to learning.

“This will have green space, exterior walk ways, natural light, sunshine, fresh air and enough space to spread out,” Moscona says. “When you have more space, it inspires more pedagogy and creativity, so the students are going to have plenty of space to meet our learning goals.”

The new campus will consist of some 45 individual modular units totaling 35,000 square feet that have been configured into seven buildings. Together, they will house 20 classrooms, office space, a student services center and a cafeteria for as many as 400 students in grades 9-12. Currently, Cristo Rey has 116 students in grades 9 and 10.

While the modular campus is a step in the right direction for Cristo Rey, it is only a semi-permanent solution to the school’s long-term need for a new permanent facility. Once the move to the modular buildings is complete, Cristo Rey officials will begin a strategic planning process to build a permanent campus.

Cristo Rey officials expect to begin that planning process soon. They have three years by which to show FEMA they are making “significant progress” toward a permanent plan for the school. Until then, FEMA has agreed to cover 90% of the cost of the modular campus, including a 36-month lease of the buildings, which totals about $2.7 million.

“I think three years is pretty aggressive,” Board President Vic Howell says. “And FEMA tends to agree, to the point they have said that if, at the end of the three years, we can show we have made significant progress or reasonable progress toward a final solution, they have the ability to approve extending the lease.”

Howell says part of the long-term planning process will be to determine what kind of facility Cristo Rey needs to serve a community of some 400 students, how much that will cost and how to raise those funds.

Cristo Rey is a Chicago-based network of Catholic college preparatory high schools that caters to low-income students. The schools offer a unique approach to education through a corporate work study program, whereby local businesses employ Cristo Rey students in white collar jobs for at least five days per month.

Support for the program in Baton Rouge has been so overwhelming in Cristo Rey’s first two years, more local businesses offered to partner than the school had need for, Moscona says. However, as enrollment grows over the next two years, the school will need at least 25 or 30  more business partners.

—Stephanie Riegel

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