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Parish Council members express optimism that West Bank community center will be completed

EDGARD — Structural and budgeting challenges put plans to renovate the West Bank Community Center on hold, but St. John the Baptist Parish Council representatives are optimistic a solution is near.

The old West Bank Community Center remains out of commission behind the Edgard courthouse. According to Capital Projects Administrator Daron Cooper, Parish administration made motions beginning in 2016 to utilize a $103,800 LGAP grant to renovate the structure.

Kurt Becnel

State budget deficits presented the first challenge, cutting funding for the LGAP grant last year.

Cooper said the Parish responded by utilizing public works personnel to cut down on costs. During the demolition portion of the project, personnel discovered extensive damage to the facility, including plumbing problems, faulty electrical panels, termite damage and flooding hazards.

An engineer’s assessment of the building declared it structurally unsound, Cooper said.

The cost of interior repairs far exceeded budgeted dollars, totaling more than $800,000. Starting fresh with a new 8,000- to 10,000-square foot structurally sound building would cost $1.5-$2 million.

Larry Sorapuru Jr.

According to Councilman Kurt Becnel, a Thursday meeting with bonding attorneys revealed hope for a rededication of funds for construction that would not force a tax increase.

“We have a game plan, and we’re very optimistic this plan will work,” Becnel said.

He and Councilman-at-large Larry Sorapuru Jr. said the ideal solution is to build a new community center at the park on side of the newly renovated St. John Parish Council on Aging Senior Center, located off River Road in Edgard.

West Bank celebrations and civic meetings are often limited to school auditoriums or a single meeting room at the Edgard library, according to Sorapuru.

Becnel said the available space is booked quickly, and West Bank residents often drive to St. James Parish or St. Charles Parish to host social events.

“We need a community center so badly,” Becnel said. “I can guarantee it would be actively used almost every weekend and periodically throughout the week for parties and meetings.”

More information will be available in coming weeks as Parish Council members discuss and vote on various capitol improvements, Becnel said.

St. John Chief Financial Officer Robert Figuero said the administration has every intention of securing grant money to move the project forward.

Funding is not always readily available, but the most important projects are seen through, according to Parish President Natalie Robottom. She said current facilities on the West Bank are substandard, adding new meeting space that can also serve as a storm shelter is a necessity.

“The state is struggling right now, so projects aren’t always completed immediately,” Robottom said. “It’s still on our mind, and we are looking for funding opportunities. We’re closing out some of our bond issues and spending those dollars. Once you finish with those, you have the ability to bond additional funding.”