Old school is moved again

McDonogh No. 11 moved to new spot

Amid the din of construction at the future site of the University Medical Center, the historic John McDonogh School No. 11 was transported to a permanent home Saturday — the third time it has been moved in a little over two years.

The school, which was constructed in 1879 and held its final day of classes in 2011, had originally been targeted for demolition to make way for the new $1.2 billion hospital complex, but preservationists successfully lobbied for it to be spared.

In November 2011, it embarked on the first leg of what would become an arduous journey. It was elevated on a web of steel beams and hauled a few blocks from its former site in the 2000 block of Palmyra Street, in the heart of the new hospital’s footprint, to Tulane Avenue and South Galvez Street, according to Christian Cancienne, owner of Orleans Shoring, the company that did the moving.

In November 2012, Cancienne’s company moved the school several more blocks to Canal and Derbigny streets, after state officials couldn’t negotiate a deal to buy land on Tulane Avenue for a permanent location.

On Saturday, the 16,000-square-foot school was wheeled approximately 500 feet to what is hoped will be its final home, plodding along at a place so glacial its movement was barely perceptible, before eventually coming to a rest next to South Claiborne Avenue between Canal and Cleveland Avenue.

According to Mark Goodwin, general manager for Orleans Shoring, the project was a freakish engineering feat, led by employee Louis Kinchen, which took six months of planning and preparation, 37 high-tech dollies, 152 tires, 200 tons of steel supports and an endless number of man hours.

It is the largest move of a structure in the history of Louisiana and the fifth largest in the U.S., Cancienne said.

“I’d say it’s a good feeling to get it done and behind us,” Goodwin said with a smile as he watched the school inch toward its new home.

Cancienne said that, in addition to the school, his company has relocated about 100 historic homes from the area where the hospital complex is being built.

A number of other dwellings were razed to make space for the hospital, irking preservationists who criticized state officials and seized on the old high school as a focal point for their efforts, at one point arguing that it should be integrated into the hospital complex’s design instead of being moved.

“The landmark school building, built in 1879, can and should be incorporated into the plans for the proposed hospital complex if the state ever acquires the necessary financing to proceed,” wrote Sandra Stokes of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana and Brad Vogel of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in a 2011 letter published in The Times-Picayune.

A spokesman for the Louisiana Division of Administration said the building will remain on the edge of the hospital site, but that the state has yet to determine how it will be used.

All of the construction is being paid for by the state, and Cancienne couldn’t provide an estimate of the cost of the latest move.

He said the school, a hulking faded white building with a triangular green roof, has an antiquated brick design that made it especially challenging to move.

At a weight of 17 tons, Cancienne said, the building dwarfs the homes the company typically relocates.

Having reached its final destination, the building will be elevated 12 feet in the air and eventually placed on top of a new foundation.

In the meantime, commuters may have a surprise when they travel on Interstate 10 near Canal Street on Monday.

“There are probably some people who are going to think, ‘Am I going the right way? Where did this building come from?’ ” Cancienne said.