OAK GROVE - Residents in the north Ascension community of Oak Grove will have a new-look gathering place for parties and other events by the end of the year.
The Ascension Parish Council last week awarded a $342,225 contract to Capitol Construction LLC to renovate and expand the Oak Grove Community Center, located at La. 42 and La. 73 near the growing Prairieville area.
The existing 1,315-square-foot building will be increased by 750 square feet and will receive an updated exterior and new interior finishes.
The project, which is expected to begin next month and be completed before the end of the year, includes a new 425-square-foot meeting room capable of being configured as either two separate rooms or one large room.
Council Chairman Chris Loar, who represents the Oak Grove community, said the upgrades are sorely needed.
"The building looks horribly ugly and out of date, and is falling apart inside," Loar said.
Loar first talked about the need for renovations at the community center and the adjoining park when he ran for a Parish Council seat in 2007.
Three years later, the parish completed a $370,000 upgrade at the Oak Grove Community Park that included a parking lot, spray ground, two playgrounds, pavilion, beach volleyball court, fencing, playground equipment and landscaping.
"That was a home run for us," Garney Gautreau, who oversees the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center and the parish's Recreation Department, said about the decision to upgrade the park.
The Oak Grove spray park was the first of its kind in the parish, but now two or three similar park features are planned across the parish, Gautreau said. Loar said he's hopeful parish officials can clone the community center improvements at the parish's other centers in Darrow and Geismar.
Residents may rent the Oak Grove Community Center at a rate of $150 for 150-minute time periods, Gautreau said. Mostly used for birthday and anniversary parties, Gautreau said, the center is rented frequently, particularly on weekends. Loar said he believes the upgrades will increase the demand for the center.
"I think it's going to prove extremely popular," Loar said.
In addition to the aesthetic upgrades at the center, parish officials are negotiating for the purchase of an abandoned house south of the park on La. 73. Gaining that property would allow for additional green space at the park, and the relocation of the parking lot. The parish is selling a portion of the lot on the north end of the park to the state as part of the La. 42 expansion, officials said.
"This has always been near and dear to my heart," Loar said of the coming Oak Grove improvements. "It's one of the reasons I wanted to get involved in politics. I just saw that space. I'd just had my first daughter and something I really wanted to see was a better park for her.
"It's been very gratifying to see the community embrace it," Loar said. "Everywhere I go, people ask me about it and comment how much they like it. I think it's been a very successful story for Ascension Parish."
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