Bond election could fund new St. James High

Published 11:45 pm Friday, December 12, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

ST. JAMES — When Yuhuang Chemical CEO Charlie Yao first looked at the campus of St. James High School, he turned to attorney Jerry Jones and said, “we could do something cool with this.”

Jones, a Baton Rouge-based attorney who represents Yuhuang Chemical, told the story to St. James Parish School Board members Tuesday night as part of his request to Board members for them to continue the process by which the current site of St. James High would be sold through bid.

After hearing from Jones and receiving a similar recommendation from St. James Superintendent Dr. Lonnie Luce, School Board members twice voted 6-1 to declare the high school as surplus property and consider calling for a May bond election at its Jan. 13 meeting.

Board member Patricia Schexnayder was the dissenting voice in both votes. The District 5 representative said the incoming School Board, which takes over in January, should make the call.

Jones said Yuhuang’s $1.85 billion methanol plant construction project adjacent to the school is proceeding quickly, with groundbreaking expected in the third quarter of 2015.

“We’re purchasing approximately 1,200 acres,” Jones said.

“The project will employ about 400 employees when totally operational. It will take about two and half years.

“If we are fortunate enough to purchase the property, it would be our intent to keep the trees. The (school) building would more than likely become the administrative campus for our company. The gym and auditorium would create a great opportunity for synergy for the community, where the company could work with the community to make those (available).”

In advocating the moves to Board members, Luce reiterated Tuesday’s votes kept the school district on schedule to build a new St. James High School near the site of the recently constructed football stadium along Louisiana 20 and 3127 in Vacherie.

“We’ve invested over $7 million in that property,” Luce said, alluding to infrastructure work, parking lots and road access.

Luce said parish and economic officials agreed St. James High School’s relocation by the football stadium on a 54.5-acre site would correspond with residential growth in that region.

If School Board members do approve going out for a tax-and-bond election at their January meeting, officials said the district could push for $50 million to finance the high school construction and fund maintenance work across the district.

Luce said now is the time to move St. James High School’s location, because the current River Road site is surrounded on three sides by industry. He said holding an auction could net the district close to the site’s $10 million appraised value.

“We’d like to move our kids to the new St. James High about the time the (Yuhuang) plant starts up producing methanol,” he said. “To do that, we’re on a fairly tight timeframe.”