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NORDC closes Annunciation Center amid protest

28th May 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Brittany N. Odom
Contributing Writer

After serving the St. Thomas community as both a recreation center and administrative office facility for several years, the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (NORDC) Annun­ciation Center located at 800 Race St. will revert exclusively to administrative office space in June 2013.

The Commission finalized a de­cision in April 2013 to repurpose the Annunciation Center to house several administrative workers, including those from the St. Bernard Center who will relocate to Annunciation when their own center begins to undergo renovations at the end of the summer.

NORDC has stated that all outdoor amenities, including playground equipment and the basketball court, will remain accessible for public use. However, programming that took place inside of the center will be permanently relocated on June 3 to the Lyons Center, located at 624 Louisiana Avenue and Tchoupitoulas St., nearly two miles away from the Annunciation building. The Lyons Center, which has been closed since Hurricane Katrina, will reopen at after an extensive $5 million renovation.

The New Orleans Ballet Assoc­iation (NOBA) classes, NORDC piano instruction, and Casa Samba classes currently occupy the Annunciation Center’s only conference space and multi-purpose room where NORDC files are also stored, and are the only programs to be moved to the Lyons Center, which will also house a basketball gymnasium, theatrical stage, computer lab, swimming pool, dance studio, and three multi-purpose rooms.

While the Lyons Center will offer some programs that were terminated at the Annunciation building several years ago as well as newer ones in a much larger space, St. Thomas community members who frequent the Annunciation building, however, are not all pleased with the move.

“We are not happy that they’re taking an active community center that serves over $8,000 people, approximately, on an annual basis so that it can be office space,” said Alisa Brierre, whose seven-year-old son Jacques participates in the Casa Samba program and who started a petition in favor of keeping programming at the center. “I understand the desire to have an entire staff in one location, but not at the expense of the children.”

Casa Samba, an organization that has taught young children and adults Brazilian drumming, dancing and stilt performing at the Annunciation building for nearly 15 years, will be moved to a room in the Lyons Center that is one-third the size of their present space. Carolyn Barber-Pierre, one of the organization’s founders, was among those present at a meeting held by the group on May 23 and expressed her concerns for what impact the move will have on the community as a whole.

“You’re [NORDC] taking programming out of the community in a time when I think the city is struggling with violence and crime, and we’re really trying to focus on how we can give our kids a positive and safe environment,” Barber-Pierre said. “That’s the shame about it; they’re creating an office building. We have a lot of office buildings, but not enough community centers.”

While NORDC does not anticipate returning programming to the Annunciation building, they do plan for several new and renovated centers to open around the city in the coming years as a result of $118 million allocated to NORDC capital projects from the City of New Orleans.

Those who frequent the Annun­ciation building worry, though, that once programming is removed from the building, the park will become vacant or also repurposed. High school senior and longtime St. Thomas resident Bomani Pierre fears that one day he will return home from college to find his beloved community center and park gone.

“I know I’m not going to be able to come back because this center is not going to be here. I’ll be visiting it, but it won’t be the way it all started,” he said. “My main hope is that they don’t take the center away. They don’t have to take this center away; it’s not necessary.”

This article originally published in the May 27, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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