Progress on public works buildings

The piles and footings have been going into the ground over the past few weeks for the future foundation of a new Donaldsonville Department of Public Works building, city officials said.

The alluvial soil in donated farmland off Thibaut Drive where it is being built is weak and requires extra foundation work, but the 5-acre site remains a welcome new home.

Mayor Leroy Sullivan said the building being constructed by LA Contracting Enterprises, of Thibodaux, will provide storage for city equipment spread out around Donaldsonville.

“We have no facility. We have no place to store any of our equipment,” Sullivan said.

The $450,690 project is being paid for by a $19.37 million federal hurricane recovery grant awarded to Ascension Parish in 2009 after hurricanes Gustav and Ike of 2008, according to Sullivan and parish bid documents.

The city lost its old DPW warehouse, a former sewing factory on Church Street, to make way for a new pavilion at the parish-owned South Louisiana State Fairgrounds, Sullivan said.

The future city DPW building, which is just east of the fairgrounds, is one of two public works buildings on Ascension’s west bank coming to fruition after a long time ripening on the vine.

Parish government is simultaneously approaching final approval to fund its own west bank DPW building, allowing the parish to seek bids. A key final round of votes by the Parish Council on the funding plan starts Thursday.

Both DPW buildings have run into funding problems and been enmeshed in long-running parish and city debates over the future use of the nearby fairgrounds in Donaldsonville, leading to a game of musical chairs for the proposed sites of various public buildings in Donaldsonville.

Ascension Parish Councilman Oliver Joseph, whose district is on the west bank, said the parish DPW West building will provide a more suitable office space for parish employees now working in poor conditions, new storage space for parish public works and drainage equipment, and an office for west bank residents to visit.

“Eight long years, but we finally worked together and we got it,” Joseph said. “It will be a good project. It was long overdue.”

The planned 8,155-square foot, $930,000 parish building will be built on 5 acres along Thibaut Drive next to the future city DPW building, according to parish budget documents and Sullivan.

The location of the proposed parish building was the source of a dispute a few years ago between Joseph and Parish President Tommy Martinez.

Martinez wanted it on part of the nearby fairgrounds, a former private nonprofit park the parish bought in 2011 with $988,000 in Gustav money.

Joseph did not want to use scarce recreation land but wanted the building on land the Thibaut family had offered to donate along La. 1.

The two parish leaders ended up settling on a 5-acre share of a 10-acre site along Thibaut Drive east of the fairgrounds that the Thibaut family had separately donated to the city for recreation several years earlier. “We both compromised that this was the site,” Joseph said.

Parish government got the site through a trade with the city for nearly 3 acres of fairgrounds property along La. 3089 for a new city fire station, Sullivan said. The future city DPW building is on the remaining donated 5 acres along Thibaut.

Funding also has been an issue for both projects. The city DPW building came in over bid, even though the project was bid twice and a second, downsized plan garnered six offers in December, Sullivan said.

The city originally had planned to put $300,000 of its $1 million share of parish Gustav money toward the building but ended up putting about $450,000 toward it with the higher bid, taking an extra $150,000 from planned improvements to the Lemann Memorial Center, Sullivan said.

Money for the parish DPW building has been on the budget books since the administration of former Parish President Ronnie Hughes but the amount was not quite enough.

Last year, the project lost $500,000 in additional Gustav money intended to fully fund the project because the parish was under a deadline to use the money.

Martinez told the Finance Committee in April that the grant money went to a sewer project in Darrow that was also short $500,000.

“We moved the money before we lost it. That’s the bottom line,” Martinez said.

The funding plan before the Parish Council on Thursday — actually a required budget amendment reflecting spending the Council and Finance Committee have already endorsed — would add an extra $355,000 from the general fund to the $575,000 already on hand for the project. Most of the extra cost is from planned foundation work to account for weaker than expected soils, parish officials have said.

Under the plan, West Ascension Drainage, which will store equipment in the new building, would provide $9,200 for extra engineering of the foundation.

“It looks like it’s going to work out,” Joseph said.

Sullivan said the city DPW building is slated to take a little more than six months to finish. He said the city has put the Lemann Center project on hold until city officials see how much money is left from the DPW building.