Civic center idea popular, Laque says

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2001


HAHNVILLE – People are taking to the idea of a multi-use civic center, according to St. Charles Parish President Albert Laque. “Most I talk to are real happy,” he added. The St. Charles Parish Council, in a 7-2 vote, approved the acceptance of 34 acres off Interstate 310 from Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edward A. Dufresne Jr. “I don’t want you to take too damn long to build it. I want to see it!” Dufresne urged the council during discussion on that Jan. 22 vote. Likewise, Larry Matson, the parish parks and recreation director, said the site, located behind the railroad tracks from the St. Charles School Board office, “would be ideal.” He hopes plans would include basketball courts to relieve the pressure of scheduling games and practices around events at the various schools and their own events. The department is located in a trailer parked under Interstate 310’s Hale Boggs Bridge, exposed to hurricane damage. Matson also hopes to move his offices into the new center, and added it could also provide room for other parish offices such as Planning and Zoning and Economic Development. “The schools have been very good to us with the use of their gyms,” Matson said, “but sometimes there are scheduling conflicts like a science fair they didn’t tell us about.” He added he would be willing to promote the center’s development to parents in order to get what his department needs. Adding to its convenience, Laque continued, is that the site is across from the planned Sugarland Parkway from the 40-acre site acquired from Dufresne in May 2000, where a new school is eventually to be constructed and named for the late educator, Raymond K. Smith. Construction on the four-lane access road by Esperanza Land Co. is to begin soon, along with installation of necessary utility lines, at no cost to the parish. Other possible uses of the planned public center include an auditorium, where events such as graduations, proms and trade shows could be held. Hahnville attorney Leon C. Vial III, who is active in the River Region Community Chorus, said the proposed center would be an ideal site for concerts and similar events. “It wold be wonderful, if the money is right. It would have its uses.” One objection raised during council discussion was the determination of priorities, with the courthouse overcrowded and cramped. Land was bought several years ago next to the courthouse with an eye toward construction of a parish office building. However, Laque said this civic center would be easier to obtain public approval, since the public would be using it more. He stressed that his top priorities remain parish sewerage and hurricane protection, but with the land in hand, “it’s a no-brainer.” Dufresne’s attorney, Louis Authement, said the agreement includes a stipulation that something is in place by the end of 2007 or the land reverts to Dufresne. However, Authement continued, that deadline is not set in stone and could be extended. Laque agreed and noted that the $1.8 million-valued donation would mean a tax break for Dufresne. If the judge takes back the land, though, he also re-assumes the tax burden. Laque continued that with Sen. Joel Chaisson II and Rep. Gary Smith already on board with the project, “they know how to get things done in Baton Rouge” to loosen the purse strings on $7 million in the capital projects budget. “It’s just been talk before,” Laque continued, “but we hope we can come up with something.”