Land donation sought for community college in St. Martin Parish

South Louisiana Community College has issued a request for a donation of 9 acres in Upper St. Martin Parish to build a new $9.2 million building to replace its Evangeline campus in St. Martinville.

The college had planned to begin construction of the more than 36,000-square-foot building this summer across from the existing campus on Martin Luther King Drive but decided to seek alternative sites after consulting with architects, SLCC Chancellor Natalie Harder said.

“The architects came back and said we should rethink the site for two reasons,” Harder said. “For one, it’s in a residential neighborhood. We’re talking traffic. Some of our technical programs can be very noisy and it’s not a good fit for any institution of higher education to be embedded solely in a residential block.”

She added, “We’re also limited there because we can’t expand anywhere. So, as we hope to grow that campus, we’ll be landlocked.”

Local state legislators have met with Harder to discuss the challenges of building the campus on the existing site and support Harder’s goal to find additional land, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, said.

“This is the only chance we’ll have in St. Martin Parish to build this large project,” Mills said. “It’s tough right now to build it (at the current site). We agreed that maybe we should let the institution shop around to see if it could find an alternative.”

An official request for land was issued Wednesday and includes an outline of the minimum requirements for a property site.

The property must be a contiguous 9 acres, offer direct access to major streets and have utility infrastructure in place.

Interested donors are required to submit any questions for clarification by Tuesday and final proposals must be submitted by Oct. 8.

“We’re willing to look at any site that the community thinks makes sense,” Harder said.

The St. Martin Parish School Board had donated property it owns across the street from the existing Evangeline campus for the project.

Harder said if a new, larger site is found, then the college would return that property to the School Board.

However, if no new sites fit with the college’s needs, the construction may continue at the donated site on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, she said.

“We’re committed to getting a shovel in the land by next July,” Harder said.

“If there’s no better space, then we’ll build in the current space.”

The Evangeline campus totals about 32,000 square feet, with programs sprawled out over separate buildings on the site.

The facilities are in major disrepair, making it cheaper to build rather than repair, college officials have said.

The project was approved by the Legislature in 2007 as part of a more than $173 million bond package for construction projects on 14 campuses within the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

The bond package included $5.3 million in major renovations at the Gulf Area campus in Abbeville that were completed last year.