School Board to buy land for new tech college

Deidre Cruse, Governmental Reporter

The Iberville Parish School Board on Monday authorized spending $1.082 million for nearly 35 acres of land next to Plaquemine High School and donating 10 acres to the state for construction of a new technical college.

The Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS) plans to build a new $3.1 million facility for the Capital Area Technical College Westside Campus at the site. It will offer post-secondary education programs in health care, industrial maintenance, computer technology and business office technology.

Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. told the POST/SOUTH he has included $200,000 to provide infrastructure for the site in the Iberville Parish Council's proposed budget for next year.

While it will serve students from around the area, including adults seeking job training, the technical college will offer Plaquemine High students the opportunity for dual enrollment and dual credit classes to prepare them for the workplace, said Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr., recommended the plan.

“This is a college,” Dr. Cancienne said. “This is truly post-secondary work.”

Iberville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Hank Grace touted the move touted as a major step for education and for local industries that need a “trained and ready” workforce.

“This is critically important to the future of Iberville Parish,” Grace said.

School Board Member Brian S. Willis of Plaquemine, chairman of the board's Buildings and Grounds Committee, said there is a demand for career education. The school system had to turn students away from grant-funded welding course offered this summer at Plaquemine High.

Other school board members questioned buying land to donate to the state when they are struggling with the school system's finances.

“Do we not have any property where this could be built,” asked Board Member Darlene M. Ourso of White Castle, who said she did not receive the proposal until Friday. “...I think I'm against the idea of how this has been handed down to me.”

“We're purchasing property to give away when we have in-house issues,” said Board Member Stanley Washington of Maringouin. He said the board had delayed repairs at North Iberville Elementary School and the White Castle High School gym for lack of funds.

“We need to learn how to take care of in-house issues first,” Washington said.

“We passed a resolution supporting the concept,” School Board Member Tom Delahaye of Plaquemine said.

Cancienne said the School Board had agreed to donate five acres of land at the Plaquemine High School campus for the technical college's new facility, but LCTCS said that was not enough. The organization said it needed 10 acres and possibly more.

“If this thing grows as expected, they will need 15,” he said.

Ourso suggested buying 15 acres and for the board to “take one day at a time.”

Delahaye, a real estate developer, said a second tract would be more expensive down the line.

Cancienne said other parts of the site could be used to develop soccer fields, a football field for seventh and eighth graders and possibly a softball field for girls.

The board approved the purchase in an 11-2 vote, with Washington and Board Member Dorothy R. Sansoni of Plaquemine, voting no. Board members Albertha Hasten of White Castle and Michael C. “Chief” Barbee were absent.

The board authorized its president, Melvin Lodge, to buy a 34.91-acre tract on Tenant Road from E. J. Gay Planting and Manufacturing. The land is a portion of the St. Louis Plantation property. The sale price works out to $31,000 an acre.

The board then approved a cooperative agreement donating 10 acres to LCTCS.

Stevie Smith, chair of the LCTCS Facilities Corporation Board, said construction would take approximately 15 months from the time the land donation was finalized.

Act 391 of the 2007 Legislature authorized $173.7 million to improve technical college facilities around the state, and the State Bond Commission approved the sale of the bonds in December 3007, Smith said. He said the Legislature also created the CTCS Facilities Corporation Board as a non-profit corporation to oversee construction.

He appeared at the board meeting with other representatives, who presented drawings of what the school might look like and the courses it would offer.