City breaks ground on four building, streets projects in Lower 9th Ward

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu walks hand in hand with June Sanchez during the ground breaking on Wednesday for the Sanchez Community Center and pool in the Ninth Ward. June is the widow of Andrew Sanchez, the center's namesake.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu walks hand in hand with June Sanchez during the ground breaking on Wednesday for the Sanchez Community Center and pool in the Ninth Ward. June is the widow of Andrew Sanchez, the center's namesake.

The city broke ground Wednesday on a new firehouse, community center and $44.9 million in street repairs in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Construction on the new Sanchez Community Center will begin this spring and is expected to be completed in summer 2014.

The $19 million building will be 65,000 square feet on the lakeside corner of North Claiborne and Caffin avenues.

It will include an indoor pool, gymnasium, senior center, health clinic, New Orleans Police Department substation, computer lab, dance room and game room.

“We’re ecstatic about that,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said of the many amenities the new center will have.

The new community center will replace a popular pre-Katrina facility that was damaged beyond repair during the storm and later torn down.

Construction was delayed because engineers found they needed to use concrete pilings, rather than wood pilings, because of the soil, Vince Smith, director of capital projects, told a crowd during a neighborhood meeting in January.

With that issue resolved, a test pile program was set to begin in February.

“It’s going to be quite a building,” said District E City Councilman James Gray, who represents the Lower Ninth Ward, adding that the new construction shows faith in the neighborhood. “If you haven’t invested in the Lower Nine yet, you’re late.”

The river side of the corner will include a new firehouse for engines Nos. 22 and 29.

Construction on that combined facility will begin in January 2013 and should be completed in spring 2014. The project is projected to cost $4.1 million.

The new, 9,000-square-foot firehouse 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 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 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 on the site of the future Sanchez center.

“This is going to be a great corner,” said Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant, who oversees the city’s capital projects.

The $44.9 million in street repairs are part of the Lower Ninth Ward Recovery Roads Program.

The initiative, part of the $239.7 million FEMA-funded Recovery Roads Program, will begin this spring and wrap up by fall.

Planned street improvements include full replacement of pavement, resurfacing of the uppermost layer of street pavement and repairs of smaller areas of damaged pavement. Other repairs will include sidewalks, corner ramps and curbs.

During Wednesday’s news conference to announce the upcoming work, Landrieu took the opportunity to show off phase one of the Lower Ninth Ward Streetscape Project, which was recently completed.

The beautification project covers North Claiborne Avenue between Andry and Lamanche streets and includes sidewalk improvements, landscaping, lighting, a walking path on the neutral ground and public art space.

Phase two will extend the walking path toward Tennessee Street. Construction on that phase will begin this spring and is expected to cost $1.9 million.

Grant and Landrieu acknowledged that the flurry of work about to begin will be an inconvenience but asked residents to bear with them during the coming months.

“It’s about to get uncomfortable,” Grant said. “Work with us.”

“There will be inconvenience with great progress,” Landrieu added.