Mahalia Jackson Early Childhood Family Learning Center (originally McDonogh 36 Elementary School (1954, Sol Rosenthal and Charles R. Colbert) renovated 2010 by John C. Williams. photograph by Francine Stock
In a field of lost opportunities we have a singular instance of adaptive reuse. McDonogh 36 Elementary School was the only school from the 1950s not slated for demolition by the School Facilities Master Plan. The school was renovated by architect John C. Williams for a non-profit foundation and re-opened in 2010 as the Mahalia Jackson Early Childhood Family Learning Center. During renovation the facility was stripped bare to the concrete and steel structure, shedding years of unsympathetic alterations and redundant mechanical systems.
The form is a fusion of a ‘finger plan’ school with a double galleried plantation house. Mature live oaks inhabit the courtyards between the wings. Initial concerns that the final product could trend toward the phony colonial were unnecessary. The modernist spirit survived. The renovation includes walls of operable windows and an open air circulation gallery. The new program is brilliant and the renovation reminds us how modern school facilities could be retrofitted to serve the community in new ways if only given the chance.