New community facility dedicated
Five years after hurricanes Gustav and Ike exposed shortcomings in the parish’s emergency infrastructure, St. Charles Parish officials celebrated the completion Wednesday of a new, $10.5 million community center they said will address many of those needs.
Construction of the multi-purpose, 30,000-square-foot facility — named the Edward A. Dufresne Community Center — started in 2011.
It includes a 13,900-square-foot gym and 2,100 square feet of meeting rooms, as well as a commercial kitchen, a concession stand and offices for several parish government departments, including Parks and Recreation, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, and Community Services.
The Parish Council approved plans for the Luling community center at the same time as those for the parish’s new emergency operations center.
A ribbon-cutting for that $5.9 million building, which will replace small offices in the basement of the parish courthouse, is scheduled for next month.
Both facilities will enable parish officials to better handle emergencies, they said.
Holly Fonseca, the parish’s grants officer, told a crowd of state and local officials gathered in the gym that the new community center will address needs revealed during the 2008 storm season, when 1,100 parish residents were evacuated as a precaution.
The center’s indoor space can be used as a temporary emergency shelter as well as for events such as job fairs, trade shows and wedding receptions.
It offers an outdoor staging area for response crews, as well as shower and kitchen facilities for essential parish personnel during emergencies.
“The community center is the answer to all of the disaster response and recovery needs that were identified,” Fonseca said.
State and federal money covered about 71 percent of the project’s cost.
The facility is named after Edward A. Dufresne Jr., a former chief judge of the Louisiana 5th Circuit Court of Appeal who died in 2010, and his father, Edward A. Dufresne Sr., a local farmer and businessman who died in 1978.
Their family donated the land to build the center, as well as the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office Law Enforcement Complex, a 39,000-square-foot building that is nearby.
Debra Dufresne Vial, the former judge’s daughter, spoke about her father’s legacy, saying the community center was “his final vision, a place where the citizens could come together and celebrate, meet and enjoy family. A place where we could plan the future of our parish or rebuild after disasters, a place that could serve to unite all of us. That was his vision.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal also attended Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting, and used the opportunity to criticize gridlock in Washington and urge congressional leaders to “repeal this awful” Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which charges property owners the true cost of insuring homes in flood-prone communities, without the subsidies the government has previously provided.
“What an amazing legacy for St. Charles Parish, for the entire state of Louisiana,” Jindal said.
“You know, we all wonder about the impact our legacy will leave behind. I don’t think Judge Dufresne or his family need to wonder about the impact he made or his father made on the lives of so many.”
Jindal noted that the facility — built to withstand 130-mph winds and equipped with backup power — represented “St. Charles Parish and Louisiana’s determination to build back better and stronger than before.”