Letter to the Editor: Cost is unjustifiable

A.J. Nickens

Over one year ago, the Ascension Parish School Board placed $175,000 down for the possible purchase of a 12.418-acre lot for the construction of an elementary school located near the intersection of state highways 61 and 42 in Prairieville. Five of these acres are wetlands and are unusable. The Board will be forced to build a two story building on seven acres, which will be more expensive than recent designs. The total purchase price is $975,000. If the School Board approves the purchase, they will have seven acres of useable land at a cost of $140,000 per acre. This is outrageous! The people of Ascension Parish will be paying for the infrastructure of the development called Bullion Crossing long before any school construction begins.

I believe this cost is unjustifiable, is not a wise use of taxpayer's money, and will be unsafe for students. The Department of Transportation will not allow a left hand turn going north onto Highway 61. All buses leaving the school loaded with elementary school children will be merging into southbound traffic on Highway 61 and then must merge into the left lane to use a left lane turnaround about one half mile south before merging into northbound traffic.

The path to this point has many twists and turns with deals recorded at the Clerk of Court's office. Records show George Bonfanti of Commerce Centre, LLC for $5.9 million, originally purchased the 124 acres from the Odom family as an act of cash sale in September of 2006. Then approximately 84 acres was sold a month later in October 2006 to Chris Ingram of Ascension Properties, Inc. for $2,075,395. Ascension Properties sold the land one month later in November of 2006 to Fleet Odom LLC for $2,964,850. The registered agent for Fleet Odom is Charles Landry, a Baton Rouge attorney of Jones Walker who was paid under the Hughes administration to promote the Planned Unit Development (PUD) concept. The Ascension Parish Council then adopted ordinances. Bullion Crossing, although approved as a PUD, has turned into a subdivision with over 80 percent of the lots being fifty feet wide. Fleet Odom is trying to sell twelve plus acres of the 84 acres they own to the School Board.

I cannot support the purchase of this property. The School Board has made one extension on this agreement, but there will be an up or down vote at our May 3 meeting in Donaldsonville which begins at 6:30 p.m. If the School Board does not purchase the property, the $175,000 will be returned. In all my thirty-four years on the School Board I have never seen such an unwise use of public monies. The location is not suitable for the construction of a school and money given to the School Board for the education of our children should not be given to developers to build infrastructure for their projects. Who is benefiting most? Certainly not our educational system or the students we are elected to serve.

Concerned tax payers, call your School Board member and let them know how you feel.

A.J. Nickens

Ascension Parish School Board