Lower 9th Ward to get firehouse, center

An artist's rendering of the new A.P. Andrew Sanchez (Copelin-Byrd) Center in the Lower 9th Ward.
An artist's rendering of the new A.P. Andrew Sanchez (Copelin-Byrd) Center in the Lower 9th Ward.

Residents in the Lower 9th Ward will soon have a new firehouse and community center, two structures that the area has lacked since Hurricane Katrina flooded and destroyed them.

City officials expect to break ground in early May on the new A.P. Andrew Sanchez (Copelin-Byrd) Center at North Claiborne and Caffin avenues, Vince Smith, director of capital projects, told a small crowd earlier this week who gathered to get an update on the project.

Meanwhile, residents also should expect a new home for the New Orleans Fire Department’s engines Nos. 22 and 39 to be completed by November.

The community center, a popular neighborhood spot pre-Katrina, will be 60,000 square feet and include a new pool and related facilities, such as showers and locker rooms, Smith told the audience. It is expected to cost about $16.3 million, he said.

Funding will come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, disaster community development block grants, insurance and city bond funds, according to C. Hayne Rainey, a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Construction was delayed a bit because engineers found they needed to use concrete pilings, rather than wood pilings, because of the soil, Smith said. But with that issue resolved, a test pile program will begin in February, and full construction is expected to begin May 1.

Smith said it will take about a year to complete the center.

While some neighbors expressed concerns about vibrations from pile driving damaging their homes, Smith and other construction officials assured them that if they document their homes before work begins, they will be compensated for any damage the work causes.

The new firehouse, which also will be located at Claiborne and Caffin, will be able to house two companies — the number of men who operate a truck— and three apparatuses. The engine companies were in separate locations before Katrina.

The project is budgeted at $3.5 million and will be paid for with FEMA, disaster community development block grants and city bond funds, Rainey said.

The structure will be raised 17 feet with living quarters for the firefighters on the second floor. Fire Superintendent Charles Parent has said that any future firehouses built will include living quarters above the garage in an effort to prevent them from being taken out of service in any future floods.

The old Engine No. 22 building, located at Egania and North Galvez streets, was a slab structure. The former Engine 39 building, located on St. Claude Avenue at Tupelo Street, was raised a few feet off of the ground.

Both buildings flooded with the rest of the neighborhood during Katrina. Engine No. 22 was torn down, and Engine No. 39 was never reopened. Since the storm, firefighters have worked out of a trailer nearby on Claiborne Avenue.