St. James land sale questioned by some

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 28, 2012

By David Vitrano


LUTCHER – Although the St. James Parish School Board approved the purchase of a tract of land for the relocation of the St. James High School stadium and the possible relocation of the school itself, some community members still have issues with the way the matter was handled.

“Why wasn’t a public hearing held?” asked west bank resident Yvette Melancon. “I feel you all are hiding something.”

Melancon was joined by a handful of similarly minded residents at Tuesday’s meeting. Patricia Schexnayder, the school board member who represents the west bank, cast the only vote against the measure during the board’s retreat. She voiced feelings to those of her constituents at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The west bank is very disappointed in the selection process,” she said. “It was not done fairly.”

Schexnayder also requested that additional information about the owners of each of the four tracts of land that were being considered be posted to the district’s website, a request that has since been granted.

Toward the end of last year, Superintendent Alonzo Luce and School Board President Charles Nailor entered into negotiations with four sets of land owners concerning the acquisition of property near the intersection of Louisiana highways 20 and 3127 for the possible relocation of St. James High School and its stadium.

After months of negotiations, the administration recommended the district purchase a tract belonging to the Webre-Steib plantation.

Luce said the decision was practically made for the administration. He said that tract was sold for $1 million, less than the $1.3 appraisal price. One of the other tracts was problematic because it has two pipelines running through it, and the owners of two of the other tracts wanted more for the land than the appraisal price. Luce said as a public body the school board cannot legally pay more than appraisal price.

Nailor, in response to accusations of the board not acting in a transparent manner, said, “It’s been publicized for months. We’re going to do what’s best for the kids,” adding, “If it was truly an issue, this board room would be packed.”

The land the board intends to purchase fronts Highway 20, but Luce said another landowner has agreed to donate a small parcel of land for the construction of a road to connect the property to Highway 3127.

Luce said pending legal review, construction of the new St. James High stadium will commence, but he noted that the board is not under the same time constraints as it was during the construction of the new stadium at Lutcher High School.

“We’re going to try to do it as quickly as we can,” said Luce, “but we can still play at the existing stadium.

In other action Tuesday, the school board approved a resolution calling for the issuance and sale of $2.345 million in General Obligation School Refunding Bonds. The action was taken so the board can take advantage of the current low interest rate to pay off existing bonds issued in 2002. The move will save the district more than $95,000, according to bond attorney Hugh Martin.

Said Martin, “It’s not a huge amount, but it is a saving.”