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Grand opening of St. James High celebrated

VACHERIE — The grand opening of the new St. James High School took place Tuesday.

The ribbon cutting was followed by a meeting of the St. James Parish School Board, which included a historical review of West Bank education. Tours and refreshments were offered.

“I envision this school recreating Louisiana 20 into Main Street USA,” St. James Parish School Superintendent Dr. Ed Cancienne said. “This sentiment echoes what I hear from others who believe that the school will help to build the west bank into one community with one heart and one voice. I envision this school being used to bring people together for many meaningful purposes.”

St. James Parish School Board President George Nassar said the new school marks an incredible and historical day in St. James Parish.

“It has taken many people to make this day possible and we are grateful to all who were involved,” Nassar said. “A special thanks is extended to the voters of St. James Parish for having the confidence in the St. James Parish School Board to pass a bond issue in order to make this dream a reality. St. James High School will be a state-of-the-art learning institution for years to come but can also be the nucleus for economic and residential growth on the West Bank. Imagine east and west bank students sharing a School of Performing Arts, a broadcast studio, and other programs at St. James High School.

For example, Nassar said Career and Technology Center students in Lutcher have the opportunity to take classes focusing on technical workplace skills.

Science and Math Academy students have the opportunity to engage in advanced math, science and technology allowing them to attend the university of their choice.

Gramercy Magnet students will continue their performing arts classes at St. James High. St. Louis Reading and Math Academy students will focus their attention on reading and mathematics, “assuring that they are ready for a robust high school experience,” Nassar said.

“Moreover, STEM will reach down to the lower grades, so that students exiting Sixth Ward Elementary will be ready to take advantage of high levels of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the arts as they walk through the new doors of St. James High School,” Nassar said. “This is a new wave of thinking as we enter into a new era in the new home of the St. James High Wildcats. We have an opportunity in the St. James Parish School System to be a leader in public education statewide and I know we will.”

St. James High principal Michael Kennedy said the facility is a tangible representation of the spirit and sense of community of the entire West Bank.

“In small towns, the success of the school is a strong indicator of the future health of the community,” Kennedy said. “As educators, we are thankful for the gifts we have been given, a state-of-the-art facility and very capable and talented students. The combination of the two means the future is bright for the west bank of St. James Parish.”

In 2015, Yuhuang Chemical Co. offered to purchase the 46-acre St. James High School site in St. James for $10.1 million, to be used as part of the 1,300-acre site of its proposed $1.85 billion methanol manufacturing complex.

Parish voters approved $20 million in general obligation bonds in Sept. 2015 and $36 million in 2016 to help finance the new schools, as well as renovation projects at the other parish schools. General fund monies were used to purchase the land for the new school and build the football stadium.

The cost of the entire school campus thus far, including the property, the school and furnishings, athletic facility, stadium, football and baseball fields with turf and lighting, the relocation of utilities and turning lanes is $45,008,102.

Located near the intersection of Highways 3127 and 20 in the heart of Vacherie, St. James High contains several features to identify it as a school for the performing arts. The 800-seat auditorium has a full lighting rack, recording booth, and fully equipped stage.

Across the hall is a smaller black box theater which can be configured according to use. The performing arts area also contains space for teaching drama, dance, choral music, choir and more.

St. James High houses seventh through 12th grades. Five wings extend from the center hexagonal hub. The left wings are administrative offices, classrooms and gym for the junior high and right wings are for the senior high students and staff.

On the floor of the hexagon entry is a large Wildcat. Just beyond that area to the left is the library and the cafeteria. The high school gym is across from the auditorium.