Delgado nursing school eyes move to former Charity site

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu appears to be courting a new tenant in his quest to transform the former Charity Hospital building into a municipal complex housing City Hall.

Delgado Community College Chancellor Monty Sullivan said Thursday that the college has talked with the city about moving its Charity School of Nursing and School of Allied Health into the vacant building.

Delgado hopes to triple the size of its nursing school to meet the demand for nurses that the new University Medical Center and Veterans Affairs Medical Center will generate when they come online in 2015 and 2016.

“It’s an option,” Sullivan said. “We want to be part of it. We think what’s going on with the Charity project is visionary.”

Delgado’s interest comes as Landrieu, who has proposed moving City Hall and Civil District Court into Charity, remains at odds with the court’s judges.

They would rather build their own courthouse at Duncan Plaza, near the current City Hall, preferably with the help of the BioDistrict New Orleans, a political subdivision of the state that has legal authority to raise money by selling bonds.

Landrieu has not spoken publicly about the project, but until now, it has appeared that his plan could not go forward if the judges were not on board. It’s not clear whether the addition of the nursing school would mean Civil District Court is no longer needed to complete the project, but the discussions with the college demonstrate that the Landrieu administration has not given up on its plan despite the judges’ opposition.

Administration spokesman Tyler Gamble issued a statement Thursday saying that Landrieu “is committed to the adaptive reuse of Charity Hospital as a civic complex that fully utilizes the space available, and the city continues to work with the state and other partners to further develop this plan.”

The mayor’s original proposal, released in July, was to split the former hospital nearly in half, with City Hall taking over 52 percent of the 20-story building, which has sat empty since Hurricane Katrina.

Civil District Court would have filled most of the rest of the building, using more than 284,000 square feet on floors two through eight.

A floor separating the courts and City Hall was reserved for a future tenant in the plan.

Delgado needs about 100,000 square feet to build state-of-the-art classrooms, lecture halls and labs to train the next generation of nurses, paramedics, phlebotomists and other health professionals, Sullivan said.

The college wants to graduate more than 1,000 registered nurses by the time the VA hospital opens in December 2016, Sullivan said. It now graduates about 220 nurses each year.

With just 35,000 square feet of instructional space, the South Claiborne Avenue building that has housed the nursing school since 1992 just isn’t big enough, Sullivan said.

“There’s no way for us to get to that number (1,000 nurses) in that current facility,” Sullivan said. “It’s served its purpose for us. It’s just not built for the volume that this region’s economy is demanding.”

The Legislature has given Delgado permission to issue $34 million in bonds to construct a new building for its nursing and allied health programs. Sullivan said the school had been looking for a space downtown, on or near Tulane Avenue, until the city proposed Charity, which is on Tulane.

“It’s an amazing opportunity.” Sullivan said. “Our students would be attending classes and learning how to provide patient care across the street, literally, from a place they could go to work. That’s a pretty cool thing.”

Sullivan said the school is still looking for a space downtown, but it will be only temporary until the Charity hospital conversion plan advances. The move to an interim space could happen as soon as next summer.

“That will allow us to be able to do some of the things we need to do and still be part of a great initiative,” Sullivan said.

Civil District Court’s role in any future plans for the former hospital’s conversion remains an open question. Judge Kern Reese said the judges still are moving forward with their plan for building at Duncan Plaza and are awaiting approval from the state of a cooperative endeavor agreement that would give the plan the go-ahead.

Reese said he had not heard about Delgado’s possible move to Charity.

“I’m happy for the city that they might have someone interested in helping them develop the project,” he said.