Long-awaited Safety Complex increases first responder presence on the West Bank

Published 12:01 am Friday, April 8, 2022

WALLACE — Officials gathered Thursday to cut the ribbon on the new West Bank Safety Complex, a $2 million collaborative effort between the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department aimed to increase police, fire and medical accessibility.

Located on Highway 18 near the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Wallace, the 6,000 square foot complex features bays for housing fire trucks and equipment, covered parking for Acadian Ambulance, conference rooms, office space, a kitchen, sleep quarters, a reception area and more. The facility also provides additional space to house first responders during emergencies and disasters.

Parish President Jaclyn Hotard said the aftermath of Hurricane Ida revealed the need for this type of facility on the West Bank.

“We saw what happened during Hurricane Ida, when first responders were driving back-and-forth in an effort to assist our residents in dire situations,” Hotard said. “This beautiful 6,000 square-foot facility will provide another place for those who are on the front lines to sleep, eat, or just to take a break from the stressful situations that they are facing daily.”

The West Bank Public Safety Complex will be open for residents to stop in and share information or community concerns with first responders and members of the St. John Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Mike Tregre challenges residents to drop by for a “walk and talk” on top of the nearby Mississippi River levee.

Tregre said the location of the Public Safety Complex near the Veterans Memorial Bridge will help officers quickly respond to emergencies in Wallace, Lucy, Pleasure Bend, Edgard and along Highway 3127.

“I am very excited to announce one of my campaign promises, to build a public safety complex for the West Bank, has been fulfilled,” Tregre said. “Despite minor and major setbacks, we are here today, finally, to cut this ribbon on this beautiful building constructed for West Bank residents. There’s been too many times when we had an incident happen on the West Bank and we had to hook up all the equipment and drag it from LaPlace to the West Bank. It was a long ride, but now we are in a much better spot.”

Delays to the long-awaited project began shortly after the groundbreaking in September 2019. The water levels of the Mississippi River were deemed too high for construction work in 2020. Another setback came from the unforeseen relocation of an AT&T fiber optic line that was running through the property.

The COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida further complicated the construction process. Tregre said he is still waiting on the delivery of furniture for the building that has been delayed since the hurricane.

Hotard is thankful to the residents who remained patient despite the delays, and she said the Public Safety Complex is only the beginning of the improvements coming to the West Bank.

“My administration remains focused on improving quality of life in St. John, and this new complex will do that for many years to come. However, we are not stopping here,” Hotard said. “We recently cut the ribbon on Phase One of the Lucy Trail Project, with Phase Two starting soon. We are also moving forward with plans for a new community center on the West Bank, which is also much needed.”

Hotard said the COVID-19 pandemic exposed a lack of facilities on the West Bank to administer vaccines and testing to the community. Hurricane Ida highlighted those vulnerabilities when the West Bank needed locations for food distributions and shelter while electricity and water were not available.

While Ida further delayed plans for the facility, Hotard said it allowed the parish to focus on what’s needed to make the West Bank more resilient to future emergencies.

Devon Jackson, fire chief of the St. John Westside Fire Department, said it was challenging to operate out of a single fire station after the hurricane because only one had sleeping quarters. By offering additional sleeping quarters, the West Bank Safety Complex will allow firefighters and other first responders to expand throughout the parish and better assist residents.

“I think it’s a huge asset that we are allotted this building. It will help with response time, personnel, and just putting the presence of firefighters and police officers in the area,” Jackson said. “It’s always a stopping place where people can come, and we’re always here to help. We are excited to have the opportunity to present the building.”