On Friday March 18, 2011 the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission will review the Recovery School District's request to demolish the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School.
Charles R. Colbert considered the Wheatley School his highest accomplishment as an architect and planner. He served the Orleans Parish School Board as Supervising Architect for Planning and Construction from 1951-1953. In 1952 he produced A Continuous Planning and Building Program, a comprehensive study of existing facilities and plans for growth and development. He resigned from this position to dedicate his energies to the practice of architecture.
In 1954 Colbert designed his third school, Phillis Wheatley Elementary a rather spectacular elevated and cantilevered steel truss structure. The school was designed to meet contemporary programmatic needs on a modest urban site in a hot and humid climate. Elevating the school above grade created a wealth of shaded playground space. This also saved the main structure from flooding after Hurricane Katrina. The cantilever and welded steel trusses kept the playground free of obstructing columns which would have been required in a conventional post and beam construction system. The classrooms and restroom facilities are connected by a continuous gallery.
The school was honored nationally with the Top Award by The School Executive, Better School Design Competition. In 1955 Progressive Architecture awarded the design by citation. In 1958 Omer Blodgett, a world renowned structural design engineer, praised the design of this "most unusual and spectacular arc-welded structure" in an article for Progressive Architecture. Wheatley was exhibited internationally by the U.S. State Department in Berlin in 1957 and in Moscow in 1958. In 2008 The Louisiana Landmarks Society recognized the school in its list of New Orleans' Nine Most Endangered. Currently the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School is recognized by the World Monuments Fund 2010 Watch.