Lease up on LJH land

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 18, 1998

By Rebecca Burk / L’Observateur / March 18, 1998

LUTCHER – The St. James Parish School System may face a litigation overland it doesn’t own.

Over 40 years ago a land lease between the St. James School System andthe Reynaud family was signed, giving the school system the go-ahead to build a new school. On that land the school system constructed LutcherJunior High.

The lease ended two-and-a-half years ago, and now the school is faced with either a peaceful settlement to purchase the land from the Reynauds or a messy court battle.

Superintendent John Boughton is sure the purchase will go off without a hitch.

The main owner of the land, Richard Henkley, is out of the country and unavailable for comment.

Wilbur Reynaud, an attorney in Lutcher, owns a small share of the land and said his godfather, Henkley, owns the biggest portion of the land.

“My share is so insignificant,” Reynaud said. “I only own about 3 or 4percent.”Taking a wild guess, Reynaud said Henkley owns about 20 to 30 percent of the land.

“The rest is owned by various members of my family who are spread all over the country,” Reynaud said.

Reynaud said over 20 of his relatives own pieces of the land, which have been passed down from generation to generation to generation.

He can’t speak for Henkley, but Reynaud said it is his understanding the school board is going to try to purchase the land.

Reynaud, not wanting to step on Henkley’s toes, wouldn’t say if he would agree to sell the land or not.

Boughton said the school system faced a similar situation about five years ago when a 40-year lease with Southdown Sugars ended. The lease was forthe land St. James Junior High is built on.The school system now owns the land and, according to Boughton, paid a pretty reasonable price for it.

“We paid about $9,000 an acre at St. James Junior High,” Boughton said. “Idon’t find it high. We paid a little lower than the appraised price for it.”Now the school system wants to purchase the land Lutcher Junior High is on so it doesn’t have to worry about any more leases.

“I don’t want any more surprises,” Boughton said.

Reynaud doesn’t understand why the school system wasn’t reminded of the lease when dealing with the lease at St. James Junior High.”Why that didn’t jog their memory I don’t have a clue,” he said.

Besides the land that Lutcher Junior High is built on, the St. James SchoolSystem owns all of the rest of the land that schools are on.

One St. John the Baptist Parish School Board member said he doesn’t knowif not owning the land a school is built on is unusual practice for a school system.

“I don’t know what other school boards do, I only know what we do,” St.

John School Board member Leroy Mitchell said, adding that it is a practice not done in St. John, and although the system has gotten some land throughgrants, it owns all of the land that the parish’s schools sit on.

Mitchell said the St. John School System even bought a piece of land a fewyears ago for future construction of a new school.

“We are trying to stay ahead of the game plan for the future,” Mitchell said.

No one knows why St. James wasn’t planning for the future back in the1950s when it leased, instead of purchasing the land.

Reynaud, now 48, was about 5 at the time of the lease and doesn’t remember anything about it.

E.L. Roussel, St. James superintendent at the time of the lease, has beendead for several years.

And Boughton, who has been in the school system for about 35 years, can only speculate.

“I have no idea,” Boughton said. “I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’tbuy it unless they wouldn’t sell it.”Boughton also added that maybe there weren’t enough funds in the budget to purchase the land at that time.

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