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$10 million St. Bernard Manor rebuild - FEMA OK

More than six years after St. Bernard Manor I, II and III in Meraux were destroyed by 12 feet of flooding in Hurricane Katrina, groundbreaking ceremonies will be held soon on a $10 million FEMA-funded project to replace St. Bernard Manor I on the same footprint, providing 82 affordable apartment units for low-income seniors by the fall of 2012.

Deacon Dennis Adams, executive director of Christopher Homes, the archdiocesan housing arm, said Oct. 26 that a construction contract has been signed with MW Builders of Overland Park, Kan., to rebuild St. Bernard Manor I. The contractor was the low bidder in a public process.

“They are a very well-versed and capable contractor, and we’re pleased with that,” Deacon Adams said.

Before Katrina, the three senior apartment facilities on Archbishop Hannan Boulevard in Meraux had a total of 230 units. But in discussions with St. Bernard Parish officials, including parish president Craig Taffaro, Deacon Adams said given the parish’s current population, St. Bernard Manor I would be sufficient to handle the need for senior housing.

“In discussing this with the parish officials, they agreed with us that perhaps now is not the time to build all those units back,” Deacon Adams said.

Priority to former residents

Former residents of St. Bernard Manor, many of whom now live in Christopher Homes’ facilities in Metairie, Mandeville and Marrero, will be given priority if they want to return to the new St. Bernard Manor, Deacon Adams said.

“We are giving first preference to those residents who resided there at the time of Katrina,” Deacon Adams said. “They will get first choice, and after all those needs are met, any units remaining will be opened up to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.”

To qualify to live in one of the Christopher Homes affordable properties, an individual must be at least 62 years old (or over age 18 and physically disabled) and fall under low-income guidelines.

When Katrina hit, Deacon Adams said there was only one vacancy among St. Bernard’s 230 units.

Now that residents have moved to other areas of the archdiocese and are comfortable where they are, Deacon Adams said it is difficult to predict how many former St. Bernard Manor residents will choose to return.

“We don’t really have a feeling about how many will return,” Deacon Adams said. “We’ve been in touch with a number of those residents. We’ve got a number of those residents living at Rouquette Lodge, Metairie Manor and at Wynhoven on the Westbank. A lot of the residents at Rouquette Lodge have chosen that place because their family has moved to St. Tammany.

“There’s also a certain amount of ‘contact fatigue.’ We’ve written a lot of letters, and many times the letters come back that they really don’t want to hear anything until they see something happening. When they see this announcement and they see things coming out of the ground, perhaps some of those residents may want to come back. We do know that those St. Bernard residents loved their former lifestyle. They had a love for their community.”

Under FEMA regulations, replacement funds for destroyed buildings can be allocated to alternate projects.

Other facilities to be built

St. Bernard Manor II will be replaced with a new 82-unit building at Metairie Manor by the spring of 2013. That facility will be known as Metairie Manor IV.

St. Bernard Manor III will be replaced with a 66-unit facility at Rouquette Lodge in Mandeville by the fall of 2013. That building will be called Rouquette Lodge IV.

After Katrina, the archdiocese gutted the first floor of the three St. Bernard Manor buildings, but FEMA later determined that the damage was so extensive that each building needed to be demolished, Deacon Adams said.

Even better news for residents is that while the new St. Bernard Manor I will be replaced on essentially the same footprint, it will have upgraded amenities because of new building codes that were not in place at the time the first building was constructed in the 1980s.

“FEMA operates under the Stafford Act, and we essentially have to rebuild what we had there previously, although those regulations provide for funding for upgrades according to current codes and standards,” Deacon Adams said. “We’re going to be coming back with a much better building than we had previously. We have some small size improvements due to accessibility requirements.

“We’ll also have upgrade heating and air conditioning systems and other fresh-air systems. It’s very exciting how we’re going to be able to improve these buildings.”

Christopher Homes has more than 1,800 apartments back in service since Katrina and is near capacity. Deacon Adams’ goal is to return to the pre-Katrina level of operating 2,400 apartments.

“We’re seeing the light at the end of that tunnel,” Deacon Adams said.

Ramping up work

Other Christopher Homes projects currently underway:

-- 140 units at St. Martin Manor, 1501 North Johnson Street, New Orleans. Building A will be completed in October 2012, and the historic buildings will be completed in the summer of 2013.

--  77 units at Villa St. Maurice, 500 St. Maurice Ave., New Orleans. Completion is expected by December 2013.

-- 75 units called the Villa Additions, 1900 Gause Blvd. West, Slidell. The property is located on the site of the old Tiger Drive-In just to the east of the new Grand Theater on Gause Boulevard. Completion is expected by mid-2013.

-- 12 units for the mentally disabled at the 1540 House, 1540 North Johnson, St., New Orleans. The building is close to completion and occupancy.

Also, several other buildings are undergoing major renovations: Rouquette Lodge (a $2 million exterior renovation); Metairie Manor (planned refinancing and $3 million renovation of common areas and apartments); and Christopher Inn in New Orleans ($2.2 million “green” renovation).

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .